Dividing the Estate: A Picture of the South

on stage at the ZACH Theatre for its last weekend!
by Margie Eades
———–
May 29, 2012 - July 1, 2012

Written by Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner HORTON FOOTE
Directed bySTEVEN DIETZ (Doubt, Shooting Star and Becky’s New Car)
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Last weekend I visited the ZACH Theatre for the first time ever for the opening weekend of Fully Committed. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to return less than a week later for ZACH’s production of Dividing the Estate, written by the celebrated Texan playwright, Horton Foote (1916 – 2009).

The play follows the familiar dysfunctions of a Southern family, exaggerated by financial troubles and imperturbable greed. The Gordon children and grand-children constantly bicker about the future of their family’s historic – and valuable – estate, while Mamma Gordon (excellently portrayed by Marijane Vandivier) prefers to reminisce on days of a bygone era with her elderly servant, Doug (Eugene Lee).

Stella Gordon (Marijane Vandivier) and Doug (Eugene Lee) remember the “good old days” in Dividing the Estate. Photo by Kirk Tuck

If nothing else, Foote’s play serves as historical record of Texas in the 1980s: a Texas where big money and big hair ruled society and a strange sort of veiled racism still tinged the Southern mindset. I would even go as far as to say that this production of the play presents an opportunity for a brutally honest analysis of present-day Texan mentality towards issues such as race.  It was painful to see the characters of Mildred (Janis Stinson) and Cathleen (Sharayah Reed), the estate’s domestic workers, reduced to the stereotype of the large, overbearing Mammy figure. Historically, the Mammy archetype is one of the two roles (the other being the sensual Jezebel stereotype) that have been imposed upon Black actresses throughout the history of popular entertainment.

Mammy Stereotype (from Ethnic Notions by Marlon Riggs 1986)

However Foote must have been aware of the weight of the topic he was dealing with when writing the roles of the Black female domestic workers into the play, right? He did write the screenplay for To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) after all. My concern on Friday night was with how many of Foote’s fellow Texans actually caught on to the seriousness of these depictions. With the audience’s hearty laughter at every cliché “Mmmhmm” and cheeky comment made by the cook and her helper, I had to wonder how many others in the audience were having the same considerations I was about the historical and racial implications of these women’s roles in the script. Perhaps the fact that young Cathleen is attending a junior college while Emily and Sissy Gordon and their thick-headed mother Mary Jo can hardly do simple division presents a more accurate statement from Foote about the status of African-Americans in the South.

Mildred (Janis Stinson) and Cathleen (Sharayah Reed) in Dividing the Estate. Photo by Kirk Tuck

Mary Jo’s character, defined by relentless greed and a bad case of “youngest child syndrome”, is responsible for setting the tone of the entire drama. Unfortunately on Friday night, the lively actress Barbara Chisolm was unable to perform due to a death in the family and was temporarily replaced by Lauren Lane. While Lane played her new role bravely and whined and schemed very convincingly, her reading from a script inevitably took away from the play as a whole.

Marijane Vandivier’s portrayal of Stella “Mamma” Gordon hit straight to home, as I already mentioned. Her facetious quips about “overly educated women” divorce, living through the Great Depression, God’s wrath, reinstating plantation life, and Baptists versus Methodists are quintessentially “Southern grandma”. Whether it is her quirky and stubborn feminine ways or her pursed pink lips and permed white hair, there is something in her character that will remind every Texan of their grandmother. Her comments alone are revealing of the philosophy on life native to the South and make Foote’s play and ZACH’s production worth seeing.

Catch Dividing the Estate in its last weekend on the Kleberg Stage. A few more performances have been added due to popular demand. Get your tickets while you still can!

-M

Fully Committed: A Night of Comedy at Austin’s ZACH Theatre

by Margie Eades

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June 14, 2012 - September 2, 2012
at ZACH Theatre’s Whisenhunt Stage

written by Becky Mode
directed by Dave Steakley
starring Martin Burke

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One man, three desks, and forty-one characters could either be the ingredients for a long and confusing night at the theater, or for an entertaining hour and a half of the most unique theater experience you might ever have.

Perhaps as someone who was raised more on Russian ballet than comic theater, I am being overly enthusiastic, but I enjoyed every minute of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed which opened this weekend at the ZACH Theatre. The comedy features Martin Burke as the reservationist (and the Maître d’, and the chef, and the hostess, and all the guests trying to make reservations) for a trendy Manhattan restaurant who, like the rest of us, is just trying to do his job well and make it home alive at the end of the day. Yet there is more to the show than a series of funny impressions poking fun at the status driven socialites of New York. At its heart is Sam, a struggling actor trying to “make it big”, make rent, and make it home to see his widowed father for Christmas. While every character played by Burke is entertaining in his or her own right, the underlying plot is what takes Fully Committed from being any comedian’s nightly act to an engrossing story that the audience can connect with.

One of the things that makes this performance so special is the intimate Whisenthunt Stage – one of the ZACH’s two stages, with another addition of the new Topfer Theatre opening in September . Small but comfortable, the Whisenhunt Stage is an octagonal “theatre-in-the-round”  that makes you feel as if you are right in the office with Sam, even if you are sitting on the last row. This atmosphere allows more interaction between the audience and the actors – or actor in this case – which makes the experience more personal and enjoyable for both parties. During the performance it was obvious that Burke was thoroughly enjoying himself, feeding off of the audience’s laughter and even cracking himself up; the audience in turn was fully involved in every word, every inflection, every grimace and smirk of the performance.

Then again, how could we not have been totally engrossed in the play? Burke is handsome; he could make you fall in love with his twinkling blue eyes in an instant if he weren’t so busy running around the office answering phones! From the moment he rushed on stage, he was energetic and enthusiastic – so much so that he was sweating after only half an hour.

– “Sorry sir, we’re fully committed on that day”

– “Yer full o’ WHAT?!”

–“Uh, we don’t have any tables sir..”

From the restaurant’s fabulous French Maître d’ Jean-Claude:

–“Oh. My. God. She has a face like zee catfish.”,

to Naomi Campbell’s gay secretary Bryce:

–“You betcha I’ll hold!”

and other celebrities and wannabes in between, Burke is delightful and fascinating in his ability to switch between so many characters and not end up with some sort of identity crisis.

The script leaves room for improvisation and name-dropping. Such an instance pokes fun with a VIP reservation for Mort Topfer – “who the **** is that?!” -whose family the newest  theatre at ZACH is named after. Burke takes advantage of these opportunities to subtly and cleverly engage his audience with Austin related references. There are way too many characters to go on in detail; you simply have to see the performance yourself to enjoy its full hilarity.

A native of Austin, Burke has participated in dozens of local productions. He is most notorious for playing a Macy’s Christmas elf in the David Sedaris’ holiday favorite, The Santaland Diaries. Burke’s outstanding work has been recognized with numerous B. Iden Payne Awards, including one for “Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play” in Twelfth Night, directed by Robert Faires (Sneck Up! Productions, in association with VORTEX Repertory Company). Both The B. Iden Payne Council and VORTEX have participated in Austin Creative Alliance’s Sponsored Project program.

On Saturday as the lights were being dimmed, I counted only 4 empty seats in the entire theater. At the same time, I could not help but notice that less than a handful of the audience was under the age of thirty. A shame considering that my guest for the evening, my best friend’s 18 year old little sister and mass consumer of all things funny on Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and any other popular or obscure website, absolutely loved the entire theater experience and found Fully Committed’s shenanigans and sentiments endearing.

My friend will be a sophomore at UT in the fall and has been wanting to do “more interesting artsy cultural activities”. Last Wednesday we attended the City Hall Council Meeting together to learn about the Imagine Austin Plan, for example. It is my hope, as a young adult who has grown up loving the arts, that producers andsupporters of the arts in Austin would continue to strive to reach out to young people like my friend and help them realize that the arts are for people of all ages.  If you need some incentive, ZACH offers discounted tickets for students an hour before every performance!

-M

Check out some of ZACH’s upcoming events below:

Upcoming Events:

Dividing the Estate

May 29, 2012 – July 1, 2012

Xanadu

July 17, 2012 – September 2, 2012

Fully Committed

June 14, 2012 – September 2, 2012

TOPFER THEATRE OPENING WEEKEND

ONCE UPON A DREAM

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
 Featuring:  JOHNNY MATHIS

ONCE UPON A DREAM will be a spectacular black-tie gala, which will showcase ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre in its greatest light. A cocktail reception in the theatre will be followed by a seated dinner on the People’s Plaza under a stunning custom tent. Then, Johnny Mathis himself will christen the Karen Kuykendall stage with an once-in-a-lifetime concert featuring his iconic songs. Tickets on sale soon!

DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH

Saturday, September 29th, 2012
 Featuring:  BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL, Broadway star of RAGTIME and Tony Award winner for KISS ME KATE, who will be joined at the end of his concert by ZACH performers in a rousing review that will include a special sneak peek at RAGTIME!

The Topfer Theatre and the entire ZACH campus will be ‘party central’ for our DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH! opening gala event. Besides concerts by Broadway headliner Mitchell, shows in ZACH’s other venues will take place concurrently all evening.

ZACH’s talented artists will be featured on the Kleberg and  Whisenhunt stages, while area bands perform on the Plaza.  VIP guests can attend Mitchell’s   first or second concert in the Topfer, then be free to partake in all the remaining festivities, and conclude with an exclusive post-concert reception.  All attendees will enjoy the opening ceremonies, food, drink, bands and ZACH performances. This progressive party will offer Austin’s choicest food vendors in a variety of food stations throughout ZACH’s campus.

Tickets on sale soon! 
Be on the lookout for an email from ZACH announcing more event details.

Top Weekly Events! ( Did Your Fav Make the Cut?)

1. The Yeomen of the Guard
Gilbert & Sullivan Society Of Austin
June 10-June 20, 2010

Crystal* from Austin, TX said:
“Yo’ Man! This is an awesome Production”

I had a wonderful time at the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s Production of Yeomen of the Guard. Across the board the performances were spot on. The singing was incredible. Reaching many comedic highs and unexpected dramatic lows, every audience member goes on an entertaining ride. I really enjoyed the full ensemble performances (the finale is simply divine)- their voices filled the auditorium with a cacophony of sound that was just spectacular. Go check it out before it closes. I highly highly recommend it.

2. The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
The City Theatre Company
June 10-July 4, 2010

Jennifer from Austin, TX said:
“The Most Fabulous play I’ve seen in a long while!

I was at City Theatre for opening night of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and absolutely loved it. Based on the reactions of fellow audience members, I’d be willing to speculate it was received by all as a hit. Great cast, well-executed, and very funny. I also liked their display in the lobby demonstrating the protest responses they’ve gotten regarding the production. Definitely a must-see! (for mature audiences) Continue reading

Top Weekly Events: Sound off!

Top 10 Current/Upcoming Events

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1. A Chorus Line

Texas Performing Arts

May 11-May 16, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.9 Stars): 5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 8

Linda M. from Austin, TX said:
“Loved the show!!”

“Oh strut your stuff! ” “Can’t get enough!” Then go see A CHORUS LINE, it’s Fantastic! 

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2. “Bash: Three Plays”

The Vestige Group

May 6-May 22, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.1 Stars): 4 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 13

John Fitchen from Tucson, AZ said:
“You must see this”

Wow! If you like to see plays about “happily ever after” then this is not the play for you. But if you believe in live theatre and your taste runs a little (or a lot) darker and deeper, this production will remind you why you believe. It is intimate, gut-wrenching, tender, horrible, powerful, and thought-provoking. There’s nothing cheerful here (the third part is Medea Redux, so what would you expect) but you’ll be richer for having seen it. The other reviews correctly praise the performances of all the actors, especially Jen Brown. On a personal note, I drove from Houston to see this play, knowing nothing of the company and not having seen any reviews. The delivery of the opening sentence let me know it was worth it. By the time the plays had finished it was clear this had been a highlight of a long journey. Even seeing only the third play (Medea Redux) would have justified a drive from much further away than Houston. “Bash” has gotten under my skin and it won’t let go

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3. The Taming of the Shrew- Original Practices

The Hidden Room Theatre

April 30-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.5 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 5

Contessa from Austin, TX said:
“Fantastic!”

This was an AWESOME performance. The setting, the costumes, the music, and the actors were outstanding! This is not a performance to miss! Regardless of your feelings about Taming of the Shrew, GO SEE THIS PRODUCTION!!! You won’t be sorry!


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4. Agnes of God

The City Theatre Company

April 29-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.6 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 8

Jo Ann Farrell from Austin said:
“Agnes of God”

Agnes of God is an outstanding production. The acting, direction, lighting, and stage design are all excellent. We are regular Austin theater-goers and this is one of the most impressive productions we have seen. It is surprisingly objective and painfully sensitive. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Agnes of God.

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5. Our Town

ZACH Theatre

April 15-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.3 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 4

Steven Fearing from Austin, Texas said:
“Our Town’s Message”

Director Dave Steakley has brought Wilder’s Our Town to Austin with a contemporary yet timeless feel. This is commentary on our town anywhere, anytime – on human life transitions and our short time on Earth. It could easily be the small town of Grover Corners, Texas. No matter, Our Town says: pay attention to what life brings and accept the inevitable seasons of change. Jaston Williams is a perfect Stage Manager to share the story of Grover Corners and invite us to learn Wilder’s universal lessons. Jordan McRae as Emily Webb is radiant and convincing but the entire cast is great, too many to mention. The audience moved into the rehearsal studio for Act II’s wedding. We were a community together, enjoying fantastic soloist, Laura Benedict. Staging in two places worked remarkably well. Performances aside, Our Town is about the opportunity (taken or missed) of human connection during “Life”, “Love”, and “Death.” I recommend seeing this play and hearing this message again. 

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6. Our Body: The Universe Within

H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture & Sports

April 24, 2010 – Ongoing

Avg. Event Rating (3.5 Stars): 3.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 2

Lassie from Austin, TX said:
“The Body – Uncovered”

This is a very interesting exhibit. To be able to view bodies, inside and out, up so close – was fascinating. It’s remarkable how the texture of the muscles has remained – the tendons of the arms and legs – all so perfect. I overheard a young student comment that she wished she’d come prior to her exam that day – she was sure she would’ve scored higher on it. It is a very frank showing – if you bring children make sure you’re prepared to answer their questions about anatomy – or prepare them in advance as to what they’ll see. The various systems of the body are shown in separate rooms – giving you plenty of room to move about and spend time taking in the different presentations. Several of the exhibits show diseased organs alongside healthy ones, making it easier to see the difference from a layman’s point of view. If you have any curiosity about the internal workings of your own body – seeing the exhibit is a great way to know it better.

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7. The DREAM: A Midsummer Night’s Dream with A Rock ‘N Roll edge

Austin Shakespeare

April 29-May 30, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.5 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 1

Ruby Sinclair from Austin, TX said:
“Bottoms Up!”

There is such a wonderful feeling about seeing Shakespeare in the park. Austin Shakes is back with another wonderful and free performance at Zilker Park! The Dream is just that as fairies and wonderment come alive to lights, colors, and a live rock band! And Bottom’s performance is AWESOME! This really is a must see! And with it being free…you can see it again, and again (well…until May 30th!)

Review your own at NowPlayingAustin.com

Top Weekly Events: Did Your Event Make the List?

Rate your events on Now Playing Austin!
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1. “Bash: Three Plays”

The Vestige Group

May 6-May 22, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.7 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 5

John Fitchen from Tucson, AZ said:
“You must see this”

Wow! If you like to see plays about “happily ever after” then this is not the play for you. But if you believe in live theatre and your taste runs a little (or a lot) darker and deeper, this production will remind you why you believe. It is intimate, gut-wrenching, tender, horrible, powerful, and thought-provoking. There’s nothing cheerful here (the third part is Medea Redux, so what would you expect) but you’ll be richer for having seen it. The other reviews correctly praise the performances of all the actors, especially Jen Brown. On a personal note, I drove from Houston to see this play, knowing nothing of the company and not having seen any reviews. The delivery of the opening sentence let me know it was worth it. By the time the plays had finished it was clear this had been a highlight of a long journey. Even seeing only the third play (Medea Redux) would have justified a drive from much further away than Houston. “Bash” has gotten under my skin and it won’t let go.


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2. American Letterpress: The Art of the Hatch Show Print

Austin Museum of Art

February 13-May 9, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.8 Stars): 5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 4

Ruby Sinclair from Austin, TX said:
“AMAZING”

This is one of the most beautifully and artistically curated shows I have seen in awhile. Between the vibrant colors of the circus prints to the iconic images of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Grand Ol’ Oprey’s Minnie Pearl, these images tell the history and culture of our country. The “Make Readies” by Charles Anderson were outstanding and made you awe in wonder that they were created from one some may have considered “garbage”. This show is a MUST SEE!!


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3. The Taming of the Shrew- Original Practices

The Hidden Room Theatre

April 30-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.5 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 5

Contessa from Austin, TX said:
“Fantastic!”

This was an AWESOME performance. The setting, the costumes, the music, and the actors were outstanding! This is not a performance to miss! Regardless of your feelings about Taming of the Shrew, GO SEE THIS PRODUCTION!!! You won’t be sorry!

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4. Agnes of God

The City Theatre Company

April 29-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.8 Stars): 5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 6

Jo Ann Farrell from Austin said:
“Agnes of God”

Agnes of God is an outstanding production. The acting, direction, lighting, and stage design are all excellent. We are regular Austin theater-goers and this is one of the most impressive productions we have seen. It is surprisingly objective and painfully sensitive. Don’t miss the opportunity to see it. Jo Ann 

5. Our Town

ZACH Theatre

April 15-May 23, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.3 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 4

Steven Fearing from Austin, Texas said:
“Our Town’s Message”

Director Dave Steakley has brought Wilder’s Our Town to Austin with a contemporary yet timeless feel. This is commentary on our town anywhere, anytime – on human life transitions and our short time on Earth. It could easily be the small town of Grover Corners, Texas. No matter, Our Town says: pay attention to what life brings and accept the inevitable seasons of change. Jaston Williams is a perfect Stage Manager to share the story of Grover Corners and invite us to learn Wilder’s universal lessons. Jordan McRae as Emily Webb is radiant and convincing but the entire cast is great, too many to mention. The audience moved into the rehearsal studio for Act II’s wedding. We were a community together, enjoying fantastic soloist, Laura Benedict. Staging in two places worked remarkably well. Performances aside, Our Town is about the opportunity (taken or missed) of human connection during “Life”, “Love”, and “Death.” I recommend seeing this play and hearing this message again. 

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6. Coppelia

Ballet Austin

May 7-May 9, 2010

Avg. Event Rating (4.5 Stars): 4.5 out of 5 stars rating Reviews: 2

Jay Y from Austin, TX said:
“Graceful and beautiful”

Those are the best words to describe Ballet Austin’s production of Coppelia. A supporter of the arts though I am, I have never been to the Ballet. Having seen it, I have an immense respect for the attention and effort necessary to successfully tell a story with dance and movement and no words. Coppelia is basically about a man who falls in love with what turns out to be a mechanical doll, and wants to bring her to life, and a series of unfortunate events (to borrow Lemony Snickett’s phrase) ensues, though it ends happily. The solo dance sequences were all amazing, and the lady who played the mechanical doll did a stupendous job of pulling off the sudden stiff then limp moves required for the role. Whether you’re new to Ballet or a long-time patron, you should see Coppelia.

For More events and other arts listings, visit Now Playing Austin!

Top Weekly Events! Who is in the Lead Now?

Top 10 Current/Upcoming Events

For these events and other arts listings, or to post your reviews, visit NowPlayingAustin.com

1. Sleeping Beauty
Vortex Repertory Company
April 2-May 2, 2010

Celia Hughes from Austin, TX USA said:
“Brilliant”

Bonnie Cullum has pulled off a masterpiece in a very small space. I loved every minute of this well crafted and costumed retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. There were several younger children in the audience, and they seemed engaged and entranced by it all. Really. Don’t miss it! Continue reading

Top Weekly Events: Did yours make the list

Top 10 Current/Upcoming Events

Check out which events made the cut this week! Review your own at nowplayingaustin.com. Continue reading