By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"It was such a sacrifice for my mother, because we really are best friends, and I was her only child at the time," Cooper says. "But she saw what it meant to me and she let me stay."
And there's the first act closer -- the spunky teen waving good-bye to her mom, on her own in the big city with a big dream about making it big someday. Think Gypsy, maybe, or 42nd Street.
Any intermission involving Cooper will no doubt involve a costume change. Clothes are life to her. She can all too often be found at the vintage clothing store The Way We Wore, which sports a name that's right up there with Nothing Is Real when it comes to business names that should be rethought.
"There's never been any question about her ability on stage or her ability to shop and buy clothing," her mother says. "I can remember when she was two years old, she tried on 40 bathing suits one time. I was just standing there and couldn't stop her."
Some may call that overindulging a kid -- after maybe a couple dozen bathing suits, even the most toddler-besmitten mom might throw in the towel -- but without that kind of patience and the clothes addict it produced, The Way We Wore might not have stayed open past its first month. And Montrose would be denied the daily fashion parade of billowing '40s and '50s skirts and kitschy accessories that Cooper displays at coffeehouses like Brasil or bars like Rudyard's.
Act II, Scene 1: Let s Put On a Show
The improbable rise of Infernal Bridegroom Productions has been written about before (see "Kicking A," by Lee Williams, February 24, 2000), but there's more than enough there for a number.
From drunken half-assed productions of plays staged in a decrepit nightclub to edgy original stuff in sweltering temporary theaters, it's a comedy montage. There's the night Cooper was doing Tennessee Williams's Camino Real in the Spanish-themed courtyard of an abandoned shopping mall and the arachnophobic actress was set upon by an invasion of tree roaches. (She was found screaming and pulling at car doors in the parking lot, desperately trying to get inside one.)
Or the night they were doing Beckett's somber and dark Endgame in another borrowed space, and just as a character bleakly intoned how there is naught but nothingness, the owner's cat loudly meowed.
It might have been a bumpy ride, but Nodler's determination to put on the most difficult plays (Beckett, Brecht, Ionesco), and the company's enthusiasm and skill have taken IBP from its scruffy beginnings to its promising position.
IBP has allowed Cooper to take on more dramatic, meaty roles.
"She's the actress I'm proudest of," Nodler says. "She had no acting background -- her background was in dance and choreography. Now she's one of the finest actresses in Houston."
She played the lead, an emotionally wrenching modern version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, in one of IBP's coups, garnering critical acclaim in the world premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks's Fucking A. She was buried to the waist and held the stage for two hours in Beckett's Happy Days.
"I just keep trying to find new challenges for her, and she keeps knocking them down," Nodler says.
His friendship with Cooper is an integral part of IBP.
"The kind of rapport they have is stunning to watch," says IBP associate director Anthony Barilla. "The rehearsal process can be very scary, but Tamarie and Jason implicitly understand that it's a raw situation and they won't do anything to each other to piss each other off. There's an incredible trust there -- he gets to say what he wants to say, and she gets to try what she wants to try."
"I've seen her do silly, broad, rubber-face, simpleton comedy and also now get to the point where she is very apt and able and a pretty adroit performer in a serious dramatic way," says IBP vet Andy Nelson.
IBP productions are often dark, if not outright pits of despair. Except for each summer, when a new edition of Tamalalia rolls around.
Act II, Scene 2: Tamaramania
Tamalalia has turned into a cash cow for IBP -- it all but sells out each year, and would run longer if Stages Repertory Theatre could spare the space. Given IBP's success with grants, ticket sales are no longer the sole lifeblood of the company, but for a few years Cooper's annual production more or less funded the rest of the year.
It began simply enough six years ago, as a fund-raiser at the Orange Show. Cooper put on some skits, sang some songs and cooked pasta both nights for cast and audience.
The second year audience members piled on a bus and were entertained on the way to several sites around the city where performers were waiting to do musical numbers. (With occasional time-outs to catch part of a Rockets playoff game; IBP is home to several Rockets fanatics. One Tamalalia featured "The Villain Song," with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the Utah Jazz.)
The bus driver was only skimpily briefed by the company that rented the bus to IBP -- "He basically thought it was going to be a bachelor party with strippers," Cooper says -- and he balked when told he was supposed to act angry at one point and kick everyone off the bus.