A Rock Musical, A New Play and A Reimagined Classic: One weekend, three shows

This weekend I was all over the Metroplex seeing three very different shows by three very different companies. Thursday night I was at Theatre 3 for BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Friday night I was down at Nouveau 47 for The Vanguard Players world premier of THE BLOODLINE written and directed by Michael Ward and Saturday evening saw me in Fort Worth for Pantagleize Theatre's WOYZECK by Georg Buchner, adapted and directed by Kami Rogers. Each of the three plays had it's strong moments but here is the breakdown, show by show!

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at Theatre 3

About a year ago, I was helping Dan out around Theatre 3 where he is the TD and I noticed a poster advertising BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON in the summer of 2012. No offense to Theatre 3, but this is not at all what I expected given the previous shows produced on their arena stage. I had been to THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at T3 and a couple of shows down in Theatre Too but this musical, this middle finger in the face of the establishment, didn’t really seem to be the kind of show that would cater to the audience that Theatre 3 has built over the last 50 seasons. Regardless, I was excited to see what Bruce Coleman, director, would do with the hot hot hot property coming out of NYC with a polarizing figure like Andrew Jackson at its center. I knew all about Jackson from growing up in Montana (where there is a healthy Native American presence) and reading Sara Vowell’s Trail of Tears memoir and when my wife asked me about him, I said that basically, he would get along well with Hitler (little did I know that this would come in to play in the show). 

This show, for me, was centered on Cameron Cobb, obviously as Andrew Jackson, but what made the show click for me was the ensemble. Cobb captured the complex and contradictary nature of Jackson expertly and with Austin Struckmeyer backing him up as "The Bandleader" the force was enough to carry the show through its most depressed and slow moments (moslty in the second act). When Cobb sang alone, backed only by the band, it felt as though one of the older patrons of the theatre had called ahead and asked them to turn down that damn rock and roll music; the volume of the band was too low to carry the Rock aspect of the rock musical. With the ensemble the group of voices was strong enough to allow the band to let go of the reins and not worry about drowning out the voices. In speaking with some of the crew after the show, they said that the speakers couldn’t handle much more volume which is a shame. This group of musicians and singers would have been much better served with strong, loud sound from the PA and for that to be the overriding impression is sad. The intense moments were lacking because of the volume, mics went out forcing Cobb to sing over the rocking band. The actors compensated as much as they could for these problems but without adequate voltage behind them, they were forced to pull back. A comment was made during the curtain speech about how much the actors wanted to bring this story and show to the audience, the earnestness of the company cannot be denied. Neither can one fault the talent level of the group, solid performances were turned in by the majority of the group. For me, the disconnect came from the lack of oomph, the ambience that should have been created by the overwhelming music was lacking and caused me to sit back and analyze where I should have been caught up in the emotion of the piece. 

The other standout in this strong production was the design. Set design by David Walsh was impeccable and Coleman’s costumes were at moments inspired and at other moments adequate. The set, as in the NYC version of the play, was littered with the detritus of the early 19th century and the details in the set are what gave the production as a whole the push over the top in my estimation. Lighting by Paul Arnold was nuanced and effective, and at the same time it captured the rock show vibe that the production calls for.

 

Check out BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at Theatre 3 through 7 July.

More information can be found at www.theatre3dallas.com.

 

 

THE BLOODLINE by Michael Ward, Produced by The Vanguard Players, Presented by Nouveau 47.

 

A few years ago, when I made my first trip down to TETA in Dallas, I caught up with a colleague from university who, as it happened, was having a reading of his play as part of the proceedings. Michael Ward and I overlapped at UT-Tyler briefly when he came back for some graduate work while I was finishing undergraduate work in theatre and he asked me to read in his hour-long cutting of his award winning play, THE BLOODLINE. When I found out that he was going to be presenting his play in its entirety at Nouveau 47 this weekend, I made a point of going down to catch the show.

The script follows two interconnected stories, one taking place in the late '90s and one taking place during WWII. Rachel and Jeremy are about to be married and as a wedding gift, Rachel researches Jeremy's genealogy and finds out that he is the grandson of Ivan Metzger, a stand in for Josef Mengele. Rachel, a Jewess, has also just received the memoirs of her grandmother and as she reads, discovers that her grandmother knew Metzger in Auschwitz as a horrid war criminal. The plot continues to examine the story in the concentration camp and in the present day as the two lovers try to figure out how they will either move past the device or split from each other and let the past destroy their future together. 

The Vanguard Players, mostly current and former students of Tyler Junior College, put their hearts into this production. They traveled back and forth from Tyler to bring their production to the Metroplex and their earnest attention to the piece cannot be denied. They all turned in solid performances and did their best to bring the world of the play to life in the two hour performance. I couldn't help but feel like the production hit one note, over and over. Actors played at one level and seldom moved into nuance, allowing the drama of the piece to stain every moment. The actress playing the grandmother in the concentration camp played the anguish of her moment in time at the same level leaving her little room to go. One could write off the underdeveloped characters to the age of the actors, but that would be doing a disservice to the age. Rachel's mother spoke with all of the words of a Yiddish mother but the actress missed the cadence of the speech rendering the possibly comic moments flat and lifeless. The same with Rachel's good friend Tina. Her line readings left little of her character to be seen, she was a device not a fully developed character. In spite of the shortcomings, the majority of the actors presented their roles to the best of their ability and that can't be ignored. I only hope that with this round of performances under their belts, they will continue to explore the depths of the characters in their run in Tyler. 

Ward's script is fraught with "you know I..." and "I know you know...", something that I found tiring after a while. Show us what they know, don't have the characters tell us what they know! The driving theme of forgiveness did not get in the way of some truly dark and harrowing moments, particularly in the concentration camp. I heard gasps from the audience during scenes of rape, murder and torture that couldn't be faked. 

I sat down with Ward and talked with him after the show, enjoy the interview below:

 

If you are in the Tyler area, check out their performances next weekend at the Tyler Civic Theatre.

http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2012-2013/the-bloodline

You can find out more information about The Vanguard Players at their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/thevanguardplayers

 

WOYZECK at Pantaglieze Theatre, Fort Worth

Having never been down to Pantaglieze to see a show, I was excited to see something there. Again, I knew a number of people involved in the production from grad school at TWU and I was interested to see what they were up to. Walking into the space, I was reminded of some of the venues I saw in Edinburgh in 2008 as part of the Festival Fringe, intimate, slightly cobbled together but nonetheless and excellent space to see theatre in. Exposed grid, lighting instruments and a curtain drawn across the proscenium were elements that spoke to the fringey quality of the work. This is not a bad thing, it is something that I have come to prize in work that I see and participate in, it would not be unheard of to see some great theatre in such a space. WOYZECK did not disappoint. In this adaptation, director Kami Rogers places the action in the "indeterminate past" and as part of a traveling freak show. I am not familiar with the original script so I was able to evaluate what I saw on its own merits and it certainly exceeded my expectations. 

Elizabeth Lambert as The Ringleader was at points terrifying and yet one felt that she was in control of the action, she was somehow manipulating the action and the actors to portray for the audience the darkness that resides in the human condition. The title character portrayed by Michael Muller was complex and railing against the fate laid out for him as one of the poor. His lady love, Marie, portrayed by Madeleine Bourgeois, had the vacant, beguiling attitude of one who has seen much of the world and yet continues to try and see the good in people. The company was rounded out by the sinister Seth Johnston as The Knife Thrower, Billy Ayers as the boorish Strongman and Timothy Crabb as the put upon voice of reason as Andres the Clown.

Situating the action of the play in the Carnival was a brilliant stroke by Rogers because all of the action we saw took place "backstage" while the carnival continued in shadow behind the curtain. In essence, the behind the scenes action was more important than what was happening on stage. The characters either fought against their role in the traveling company or accepted it and Woyzeck was trapped in between, neither a part of the act nor accepted as part of the company. 

The actors in this production were almost all young and yet they were able to pull complex characters and motivations out of lightly drawn renderings. Muller and Bourgeois were a believable couple and brought the only sympathy of the company. This show, while portraying rape and murder, succeeded in giving a glimpse of possibility before falling under the hopeless veil that pervades much of the drama of the period Buchner wrote in. 

Pantaglieze has a gem in this production, something that perfectly fits the space and mission of the company while creating something new and engaging. It is a shame that the show has closed, if it was still running I would be lining up to see the freak show.

Check out pictures and more information about upcoming Pantaglieze Theatre:

http://www.pantatheatre.org/