In a theatrical summer full of feel-good family fun, Hotel Pasiphae stands out as a renegade production of the most rarefied order. Written by local poet John Harvey and staged by the vagabond avant-garde company Mildred's Umbrella, the play takes on the Greek myth of Pasiphae (pronounced "pass-if-fey") and her unfortunate son the Minotaur, a creature who is half man, half bull. Their ancient tale of doom and gloom has been transformed into a fascinating and bizarre collage of theater.
Told in an hour-long monologue by a deeply troubled Pasiphae (Michelle Edwards), the story unfolds in elliptical snatches. We get brief glimpses of Pasiphae's parents, her children, her husband and her lover as we move across the landscape of her memories. Some scenes last no longer than it takes to say two or three lines of dialogue, while other passages, in which she describes her desires, are long and poetic. Much of this is strange and compelling, but the fragmentary nature of the script sometimes makes Pasiphae's troubles hard to follow. It helps to read the author's notes before the houselights go down.
Still, some of our heroine's conflicts are unforgettably clear. Only the ancient Greeks could come up with a character who's undone by a steamy love affair with a cow -- a white bull, to be exact. Of course, the fact that she has crazy parents -- her father, the sun god Helios, and her mother, Perseis, the forever-raging daughter of Oceanus -- goes a long way toward making Pasiphae and all her myth-size problems seem weirdly authentic and perfectly Freudian.
The production, directed by Patricia Duran, is punctuated with eerie video and sound effects put together by Eric Doss. And although too many blackouts make the show run longer than necessary, the multiple media add to the overall high-art concept of the production, as does its location at Gremillion Gallery. The large abstract paintings on the walls make a sublimely perfect accidental backdrop for this intellectual if slightly naughty homage to the Greeks.
Though she's only in her thirties, redhead Tamarie Cooper has become a sort of institution in H-town. Every summer, she's treated the city to a brand-new musical episode of her ever-evolving, bust-a-gut-funny Tamalalia series, put on with the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. And hip Houstonians have come to love her for it. Over the years, they've watched her move to the suburbs, try out Hollywood, get lost in her own psychic dilemmas and, most of all, have lots of fun creating outrageous costumes and even funnier song-and-dance numbers that celebrate life on the charming edge -- Tamalalia-style. Sadly, all the fun is about to come to an end, as this year's show is the absolute last one ever. So what a treat it is to revisit some of the high jinks from past productions in our favorite redhead's last blowout, Tamalalia 10: The Greatest Hits Show.
Narcissism never looked as good as it does here. As always, this revue is about Cooper's personal problems, but because they look an awful lot like those of most women trying to find love and happiness in America today, they only add to the production's appeal. Cooper's inner demons run the gamut, from unhealthy body image to substance addiction to crappy boyfriends to that ever-lasting search for a really good dress. She's got a song about it all, and somehow she makes those problems hysterical.
Anyone who's seen the previous nine productions will recognize the characters and tunes Cooper has included for this revue. There is, for example, "The Wedding Song," in which our heroine and a stage full of women dress as brides and frolic their way through an absurd celebration of their coming nuptials. The tune ends with the brides stomping forward à la Frankenstein, their jaws clenched, insisting they're thrilled to be getting married in their white dresses that make them the prettiest girl in the room. Another favorite blast from the past is the parade of former boyfriends that shows us Cooper's dating mistakes, including Stalker Guy (Kyle Sturdivant), Racist Boyfriend (Richard Jason Lyders-Gustafson), Gay Boyfriend (Wayne Wilden) and Boring Guy (Chris Irvin). Along the way she also talks about her sexy dreams about the princes of England, her love of bad '80s MTV dance moves and a dreaded PE class she once had (led by the hilarious Noel Bowers as Coach Gascamp).
These and other scenes add up to a wonderful night of memories from one of Houston's most charming performers. And while it's sad to see Cooper's Tamalalia series come to an end at the relatively young age of ten, it's also exciting to wonder what she'll think of next.
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