Though we’re slightly delayed due to snow, these reviews need to get to you!
If that subtitle confounds you a bit, then you must not be part of the NowPlayingAustin A-Team!
Last week we sent out our roving reviewers to so many shows I just had to post more of their reviews than I normally do. We have reviews for Breaking String’s Flying, Austin Lyric Opera’s Italian Girl in Algiers, The Long Center’s The Mark of Zorro, City Theater’s Proof, and Sheila Marie Gordon, as part of Frontera Fest, with her one-woman show, One Venus Hour.
“Proof” was my first Austin Playhouse production, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is an interesting story which actors bring it to life with energy and a fast pace, and held my interest from the beginning. Catherine, the daughter of a recently-deceased mathematician, Robert. Robert had recently passed away as the story begins, and Catherine is trying to come to grips with his death, on her 25th birthday, no less. We learn that Robert was brilliant and made vital contributions to his profession, but was struggling with mental illness in his later years. A former doctoral student of Robert’s, Hal, comes to Catherine and tries to figure out if there is any vital work Robert left behind in the old house. This leads to a plot turning point, which I won’t reveal here. It’s always a joy to watch actors skilled in their craft with ezcellent chemistry bring a fascinating story to life, and that’s what happens in “Proof.” Seeing this show is an opportunity you can’t afford to miss
Joyful Comedic Fun
I direct my comments to readers unsure if opera is worthy of their limited leisure time or, perhaps, a threat to their progrock or pop melodies playlists. You’ll never know unless you go. I say emphatically, “Give ‘Italian Girl…’ a try.” The program’s quick-read synopsis and the brief supertitles above the stage make the humorous plot easily understood and followed. The vocal coloraturas, in Italian, are simply icing on this zest-filled cake. The cast and creative team bring the convoluted story to life in excellent fashion. ALO serves up quick, agile, comedic acting; interesting, vibrantly colorful costumes, and an amazing set that opens up like an enormous pop-up book. The entire production is visually appealing. Then there is Rossini’s wonderful score. Uplifting. As Principal Conductor Richard Buckley noted, “incredible vocal pyrotechnics.” The gifted cast is awe-inspiring. Rossini may have written this opera quickly, but it has endured for almost 200 years for good reason.
-Ronda Dale Kirk
Z Best Way to Watch Zorro!
What a great way to step back in time – sitting in the Long Center’s theater listening to Rick Benjamin’s 11-piece orchestra as they tune their instruments, anticipating the start of the silent film, The Mark of Zorro. As conductor Rick Benjamin takes the podium, he instructs us to behave as the audiences did back in 1920 when the film was first released: boo and hiss when the villains are on the screen, cheer and clap when the hero (ZORRO!) appears, and sigh from the very depths of your soul when the heroine and Zorro finally proclaim their love for each other. Benjamin, having researched and found the original scores to many silent films, brings the film to life. It sets the bar for action-adventure films, being the first of that genre, and Douglas Fairbanks performs all of his stunts – no Hollywood stuntman, no CGI, no exploding scenes. When you see him tuck and roll, jump 20 feet to a window, scale the wall – call him the pioneer of early parkour. All in all, what a great show!
Enjoyable! Venus:from the goddess of love and beauty to mean a lovely female and also the name for 2nd brightest light in the night sky. A Venus hour has many attributes;one of which is love, and it is equal to many earth days. Shelia Gordon’s clever, well crafted play reflects these meanings and within the hour spans an eventful time in the life of one family. She superbly portrays the adult daughter of the family and all other characters. She inhabits her characters fully, melting into each one through voice, facial expressions, and movement. The audience has no difficulty “seeing” each character. Among them she engages the audience in a live auction with the rapid fire speech of an auctioneer, has the haulting, misarticulated speech of the father after a stroke, and portrays the fantasies and real conversations of the daughter with needed energy at times and heartfelt softness at other times. The play is humorous and very touching. Looking forward to seeing more work by Ms. Gordon.
Olga Mukhina’s Flying is a fast, dangerous and exhilarating ride.
Graham Schmidt and Breaking String Theatre put audiences up close to the beautiful youth of post-Soviet Russia, in this 2004 piece by one of those who originated the “New Drama” that came raging into the mid-1990’s. It plays at the Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo Street (behind Joe’s Bakery on 7th Street) until February 19.
Heedless, hedonistic and rootless, a gang of six young professionals address one another only by their remarkable nicknames. Snowstorm, Blizzard, Snowflake, Maniac, Orangina and Lenochka strut, talk, preen and play hard. They revolve about one another and thrust themselves through the drab Moscow nights like shooting stars. Director Schmidt, choreographer Adrian Mishler and composer Justin Sherburn give this story a kinetic power that leaves the audience breathless at the end of the first half.
This gang of six is without a past and with only fleeting thoughts about a future. In the original Russian version they were a commercial TV team; Breaking String makes them DJs, models and the well-connected rich. They sweep along with them a naïve 17-year-old café waitress from Siberia whom they nickname nickname “Bushy tail.” They charm her and seduce into their world of glamorous emptiness.
It’s a hot cast that sizzles as an ensemble. Bad boys Joey Hood and Jacob Trussell; handsomely depraved Jesse Berton as Maniac the base jumper; juicy women Michelle Keffer and Katie van Winkle; the dangerously seductive Adriene Mishler, also responsible for the dizzying movement; big-eyed Griçelda Silva as the girl from the sticks.
Playwright Mukhina’s dialogue is remarkable. Rapid-fire exchanges are punchy, direct and surprising. All the more remarkable is the fact that she lifted every word, she says, from interviews.
Nihilism and glamour do not prevail. The second act is an equally talky, eloquent exploration of consequences. David J. Boss as the stolid police lieutenant Volodya brings reality to some of them – in part because he lost his ballerina girlfriend to Maniac, who in turn wasn’t able to keep her (I missed that plot twist in performance but found it later in the text). Childhood and narcissism do not last. Each of those shooting stars transforms or flame out.
This is the first production of the play in North America, and the Center for International Theatre Development brought Mukhina to Austin last weekend to see it and to talk to actors and writers. Mukhina, Schmidt and this talented company create a terrific, terrible and hypnotic spectacle for us.
Flying is an experience not to be missed.