austin theatre review

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Let The Games Begin

Week one of Frontera Fest reviewed by Jonathon Morgan

This year’s Frontera Fest is shaping up nicely. We’re heading into Week 2, and I’ve already seen more good shows this year then I did during the entirety of last year’s Best of the Fest. Let’s re-cap what I’ve managed to check out so far.

Friday, January 13th

“Oh My”
From lights up it was obvious that this was not a group of professional performers. As such, I quickly went into “isn’t that sweet” mode, preparing to be mind-numbingly bored. Then, in the show's final moments, the performers revealed that their stories about prostitution, rape and drug addiction were autobiographical. Wow. I’m a pretty cynical guy, but it almost brought me to tears. It wasn’t a great show, but some damn courageous people were performing it.

Long form improv comedy. I immediately recoiled, envisioning crap rip-offs of that crappy show called Saturday Night Crappy Live. But wait, these guys are really funny. Talented writers + talented actors = good comedy, and these guys have talent coming outta their ears. They move effortlessly from scenario to scenario, creating distinct likable characters with surprising emotional depth, all the while maintaining a variety of growing storylines throughout their 25min performance. As lights come down on Tight, I am delighted to discover a great new Austin comedy troupe.

“Sixty Seven”
Another clever piece from the kids at Bedlam Faction. After losing out on funding in 2005, they decided it would be funny to stage the actual transcript from the Arts Council meeting at which their funding was denied. It was well performed and well directed, but it was so self-referential that if I didn’t know the work and mission of Bedlam Faction, I would’ve been seriously lost. However, the sheer audacity it took to depict the funding powers that be in Austin as a bunch of monkeys made me laugh like a banshee.

“I.Don’t.Care: A Poignant Investigation of the Customer Service Industry, You Jackass”
I directed this piece, so I think it’d be a little tacky of me to comment on it here. If you’re really all that interested, read the Austinist review, or go look at our blog.

The Foolish Mortals Present “NINJA”
I felt bad for these kids. At times, I laughed very hard. At times, I was bored. Performing in the same night with an older, more experienced improv troupe (Tight), didn’t do them any favors. Instead of letting the humor evolve from some kind of truth, (as in, characters the audience could empathize with) Foolish Mortals spent a lot of time trying too hard, and relying on superficial stereotypes. This is a company to watch for in the future, but not at the moment.

Saturday, January 14th (Best of the Week)

"Power is Yours: Take It or Leave It"
Spoken word, modern dance, Capoeira and stage combat collide in this piece from UpRise Productions. At times it was awesome. The opening poet commanded language and rhythm, and performed with a voracity that was nothing short of inspiring. Even cooler was the show’s ultra-intense, high-energy stage combat finale with wooden swords and flying swordsmen. But at other times, it was simplistic, self-important and amateurish. In the show’s lamest moment, a woman makes random shapes on the upstage wall with “Keep Your Laws Off My Body” hand-drawn across her chest in magic marker. What could’ve been an interesting show was thus (and in many other ways) reduced to a bumper sticker.

"Frontier Dance"
I try to be forgiving of bad modern (or post-modern, or whatever) dance because I really, really like dance, and really, really would like to see more of it in Austin. I unfortunately cannot, however, turn a blind eye to work that’s uninspired and poorly executed. I’d be willing to admit that the concept of Frontier Dance was equal parts cute and interesting, but the choreography was incredibly bland. And, while “Skip Whitecap” and “Winston Clementine” (the performers actual names weren’t listed in the programs) perked my interest with the concept of their 10min MAX show, and “Nefes Skye” demonstrated his talent as a mover at last year’s September Flurries, all three looked noticeably unsure of themselves in this outing.

Also on stage January 14th were Content Love Knowles, Tight and the Yellow Tape Construction Co. See January 13th for a review of Tight Comedy and my reasons for neglecting to review Yellow Tape shows. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for Ms Knowles’ performance, but the Austinist seemed to like it, so I’d go read their review if you’re interested.

Frontera Fest, Friday the 13th (insert ghost noises)

Reviews of Friday's performances, brought to you by an anonymous reviewer...

I'll start this off with some mini-reviews of Friday the 13th, since Yellow Tape peeps were otherwise occupied:

"Oh My!" - A while back I mentioned to my wife that I had done some Christian Mime back in the day. She thought the fact that Christian Mime existed was complete craziness. This was kind of like Christian Mime only with masks instead of face paint, and your enjoyment was probably at least partially dictated by how you respond to things like Christian mime. There was some dancing and lip-syncing to music. There were some short skits. According to Hyde Park's website, these events of addiction and abuse were taken from the actor's lives. I think if they continue with this it could be very moving, currently it's just a little too rough.

"Tight" is improv. Which normally I'm not into. But this one was quite well done. The subject was a bicycle and they actually had several skits about a bicycle, including a hilarious skit about a drunk father and his son who barely knows him. It was a bit odd coming after the piece about overcoming substance abuse, but whatever, that's Frontera Fest.

"Sixty-Seven" was a piece by the Bedlam Faction taken from their funding transcript with the City of Austin. It started with a comical piece that basically showcased their rehearsal process, although unfortunately they didn't really manage to convey to the audience that that was what they were showing. Then they launched into a full performance of the transcript. Franklin Trumpe especially stood out with his grumpy old codger who felt that Bedlam lacked direction. Eventually the council members turned into monkeys and there was some amazing turning over of tables and general bouncing around. It was a tad alienating, but over all the best piece of the night by far.

"I Don't Care: A Poignant Investigation of the Customer Service Industry, You Jackass." For having next to nothing to do with the Customer Service Industry, this show had a few laughs. Briana Stoger's monologue about a visit to a trendy SO(LA|CO|FI) boutique was hilarious and anchored the piece, although unfortunately they choose in the end to have her aquiesce and admit that perhaps these boutiques were not the root of all evil. Which was lame. There also was a bit about the desirability of being a GAP greeter, and some sports announcers who in no way resembled sports announcers yelling that we know nothing. It didn't really tie together in any way, nor provide any insight into Customer Service, and milking the audience to clap twice seemed a little cheap, but Briana's monologue was quite good.

"Foolish Mortals Improv," another improv troupe. They had a few good bits, and their means of ending a scene via a ninja popping up and killing everyone was quite nice. Overall though it seemed like it might have been an off night for them. And they didn't really use the audience suggestion at all (Froot Loops - the closest they got was a boy with a toucan nose).

Did you have different impressions? Send your reviews to Laura, this time with the spaceman excluded.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Tomorrow's the big first day of the biggest theatre festival in Austin - I'd like to have reviews of every night, if possible. I'm far from the weathiest girl around, at this point, so if there are any readers out there who'd like to claim an evening and write some short reviews, let me know. I'm going to make it as often as I can.

Also, if there is such a thing as comping folks, let me know and I'll come review your show!

Email me, by simply removing the superhero.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Top 5 in '05

By Jonathon Morgan of Yellow Tape Construction Co.

Barry Pineo, Robert Faires, and Heather Barfield Cole posted their lists of "Top 10" theatrical performances for the past year in this week's Austin Chronicle. I'm tempted to offer my opinions on their choices, both good and bad, but that'll just get me in hot water.

Instead, I've decided to rise above such petty squabbling and mud-slinging (although, damn, it's so hard to hold back!), and post my own list. Here's the Top 5 Productions I Loved in 2005, followed the Top 5 Theatrical Bummers of 2005.

Productions I Loved in 2005

  • 1. The Match/ Deborah Hay: This piece was innovative, gripping, mesmerizing and moving. Please Deborah, please show more work here in Austin. Your Bessie is well-deserved.

  • 2. Match Play/ Rude Mechanicals (Kirk Lynn): Ok, I like the Rude Mechs a lot. I sort of feel like they put the rest of Austin's "fringe" theatre companies to shame – not quite as overwhelming as the dance it was based on, but I left the theatre challenged and inspired – both artistically and intellectually.

  • 3. Whispers of Heaven/ Sally Jacques: Well, I didn't love it, I liked it a lot. Ms Jaques created truly beautiful stage pictures – so much so that I didn't mind the (relatively speaking) bland choreography. It must be hard to do aerial work. So, even though Ms. Jacques has been a little rude to my company, I still give her the thumbs up for creating what I can best describe as paintings in motion.

  • 4. AMERICAMISFIT/ Salvage Vanguard (Dan Dietz): This solidified it for me: Dan Dietz is an awesome playwright. When a person can play with ideas, language, history and time – all while creating a visceral, engaging, rockstar-inspired style, he's got my vote for president. Why is this all the way down at number 4? Well, the production for me had its ups and downs. It wasn't an easy text to stage, to be sure, but when my attention waned, I felt like production wasn't communicating the story as well as it should have.

  • 5. Up in the Old Hotel/ Refraction Arts: Cool set, cool story, well-performed. It was slightly subdued for my taste, but nice moments of theatricality, and a very smoothly directed production.

  • Top 5 Theatrical Bummers in 2005

  • 1. The Flu Season/ Championship Theatre (Will Eno): This play is a marvel, Will Eno is a genius, but I felt like this production missed the point. Bummer.

  • 2. La Putain Avec Le Fluers /Roho Productions: Yeah, I really, really wanted to like this play. These guys seem like a very driven new company, with a well-written play. Lack of direction and weak lead actor brought it all down. Bummer.

  • 3. Pale Idiot /Rude Mechs 2nd Stage (Kirk Lynn): I know, I love the Rude Mechs, and this is a very cool play from Kirk Lynn, but this production seemed stale, and was missing the vitality of their mainstage fare. Bummer.

  • 4. Water Principal/ Hyde Park Theatre: It was just…slow…and "effected"…Bummer.

  • 5. Three Cuckolds /Tongue and Groove: This started out with so much energy! It was funny, the characters were engaging, I was into it. But then, even though the story got crazier, instead of spiraling out of control into a truly insane, hilarious production, it's like it ran out of gas. Nothing more heart wrenching then watching a good show go down, and some good actors trying to be funny when no one's laughing. Bummer.

  • Agree? Disagree? Comment below or email Jonathon.