This is going to be my last post for a while, on Wednesday child #2 will join the world and I will be occupied with familial duties so this weekend was my last show weekend for a while. What a weekend it was. I only saw two shows but they were both as varied in tone and scope as I could hope for. Previously, I reviewed the Denton production of AVENUE Q and when I heard that Theatre Three was producing the show in their smaller Theatre Too space I was reticent to review another production. I went to support my friend and colleague Olivia Emile as she reprised her role in Dallas and to see what was going on with the Theatre Too space this season. I have seen a number of shows in the downstairs space and if you haven’t seen a show there, it is a small, closed in space with low ceilings. When the audience stood at the end of the show, at least one person bumped into a lighting fixture that didn’t seem as low when said audience member sat down. As small as the space is, I have always been surprised at how completely the artistic team transforms the space into something new, it never has the same feel.
The regional professional premier saw the return of two members of the Denton cast, Emile and Matt Purvis, in their previous roles and something that I wanted to see in Denton but didn’t, original puppets. Michael Robinson and Dallas Puppet Theatre created an original set of puppets for this production and it is worth going to see this production simply for the puppet design. They are expertly crafted and thoughtfully designed and lend an air of DIY to this production which could easily pass as showcasing the book and music by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty. The cast and crew are clearly not satisfied with recreating the Off-Broadway hit, they are putting a unique stamp on the show, something I was pleased to see. I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you to see the show, if you have heard of it and are interested, this is a solid production that communicates the sentiments and unique qualities of the show admirably. What this production, directed by Michael Serrecchia, does is condense the cast to 7 actors and tighten up a huge musical to fit inside of the 99 seat Theatre Too space. Not an inch of the set is wasted and as elements move quickly on and off of the playing space, each change is enough to suggest the different locations of the show that do not “live on Avenue Q.”
Tickets and information are at http://www.theatre3dallas.com
The second show I saw this weekend, MOBY DICK, at Hip Pocket Theatre in Fort Worth was about as far away from AVENUE Q as one could imagine. If one were imagining a stage adaptation of Moby Dick, I don’t think that it would come close to what actually transpired on the stage on Silver Creek Rd. I always enjoy going to Hip Pocket Theatre and try to make it at least once or twice a summer to catch what is often innovative and thoughtfully created theatre. I checked the radar before I left Denton and it looked like a storm might be blowing but all we had in Ft. Worth was a brief power outage before the show and some dust kicking up. When we moved into the space shortly after sundown, the breeze was welcome and the cooler weather brought in by the clouds tamed the Texas heat, by the time the lights dimmed, I was ready for what creators Lake Simons and John Dyer had waiting for me (and the rest of the audience).
In this nearly wordless production, a cast of 7 chorus (four female, three male) and Michael Joe Goggins as Ahab brings the audience along on what I think of as a meditation on Melville’s tale. The book, which I have to admit never reading, has achieved a status as long and convoluted but still being one of the cornerstones of American literature. This production includes many of the touchstones of what I have come to expect from Simons/Dyer collaborations: densely textured soundscapes, intentionally meditative pacing and a sense of wonder and fascination with the world. What this production had that I haven’t seen before from these two is a sense of dread, first hinted at in the droning tones that underpin Dyer’s soundscape. It is as though one were taken into an embrace and held close while being told a chilling story, whispered into the ear. I was drawn into the piece from the beginning with movement suggesting a sea and the creatures in it and released at the end with a similar motif but altogether darker. Simons and Dyer have created a condensed version of Moby Dick that leaves little out and fills the Silver Creek Amphitheater with the forbidding Atlantic Ocean where Moby Dick takes place.
I never cease to be amazed at the creativity this pair brings to a piece, even though the play clocked in at around an hour, I never felt like I was being rushed in my enjoyment of the props, costumes and puppetry elements that flowed in and out of the space like so much flotsam and jetsam. One moment that found particularly arresting was when Ahab came into the space and “laid” in bed. A sheet and pillow were brought out and while Goggins fought a nightmare in his head, a light was brought out and the sheet became a screen where we saw one of his battles with the great white whale played out in shadow. When the whalers set out in their boats to kill the first whale, two bamboo poles tied at one end created the illusion of boats at sea. I was amused that Simons even included the processing of a whale in the show, an element that normally derails a reading of the novel became an example of the monotony that whalers could expect. When the final moments of the piece arrive, it is with foreboding that the audience sees the white whale return to claim Goggins’ tortured, intense Ahab.
I can’t recommend seeing this show enough. Get there early and enjoy the backyard music and brews before the show.
Tickets and information are at www.hippocket.org
So there you have it, the last post for a while. Both of these shows are running through the end of the month at least. I hope to be back with you all again soon but for now, get out and see some theatre!
Director, Michael Serrecchia
Musical Director, Terry Dobson
Costume Design, Michael Robinson
Puppet Design and Construction, Dallas Puppet Theatre - Pix Smith and Michael Robinson
Set Design, Jac Alder
Lighting and Sound Design, Scott Guenther
Kate/Lucy, Megan Kelly Bates
Nicky/Swing, James Chandler
Christmas Eve, Olivia de Guzman Emile
Gary Coleman, M. Denise Lee
Brian, Chester Maple
Princeton/Rod, Matt Purvis
Trekkie/Swing, Michael Robinson
Director, Lake Simons
Composer, John Dyer
Costume Designer, Diane Simons
Lighting Designer, Nikki DeShea Smith
Puppetry and Props, Lake Simons
Female Chorus, Elizabeth Parker, Susan Ridgley, Mimi Kayl-Vaughan, Elysia Worcester
Male Chorus, Marcos Barron, Allen Dean, Joshua Sherman
Ahab, Michael Joe Goggins