When Jason Nodler and his Infernal Bridegroom Productions agreed to hook up with DiverseWorks and Loris Bradley, Houston theater got better. In the past, IBP made a name for itself doing plays most theaters won't touch, including works by Beckett and Brecht. But it is the original pieces this group has created since teaming up with DiverseWorks that has set IPB apart from any other theater here.
There's the last installment of the Tamalalia series, a triptych that has followed the loopy imagination and life of Tamarie Cooper as she winds her way through the bizarre moments of city life; and Brian Jucha's Last Rites, a bawdy romp of sexual intimacies and all that implies. The last play they created was King Ubu Is King, an absurdist highbrow sort of Saturday Night Live. Each of these three plays has had a zany internal life that could happen only in the imaginations of the troupe of players at Infernal Bridegroom Productions.
What could match all this? Only a fresh and innovative playwright, someone whose aesthetic matches the kooky intelligence of IBP's. And it would be really cool to get someone with some real cachet in the theater world, someone like Suzan-Lori Parks, the two-time Obie Award-winning playwright and writer for Spike Lee's Girl 6. But how could they lure this playwright, whom James Baldwin called "an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time"?
"I thought it was a long shot," says Bradley. "Why would she want to come to a place like Houston? It's not something that she would need to do."
Why, indeed? Parks, who's been busy writing a screenplay for Jodie Foster, has yet another play opening at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in November.
The youthful, round-faced Parks had a good reason for deciding to come here to work, she says in a recent interview. When she hears all this wondering on her behalf, she frowns and impatiently twirls her dreadlocks around her fingers. "Maybe one would think that [working in Houston] was something I didn't need to do, but actually a smaller theater outside of New York City, that has a very supportive organization, is the kind of place where one can still do shit. I mean you can do whatever you want and not worry so much about the consequences. Because in New York if people don't like your show, I mean you might as well go out in the street and shoot yourself. Here I'm getting an invitation to do whatever I want. I can have fun. I can just go and do a play."
Artistic freedom is worth much to Parks. She'll spend more than a month in Houston, away from friends and family, while she directs her play this fall.
But the opportunity to work with Parks is worth just as much to Jason Nodler and Loris Bradley. And it requires a whole lot of faith. They haven't even read the play they've agreed to produce. In fact Parks hasn't even finished it. All they know is the play is a "futuristic Scarlet Letter" and that its title is Fucking A, the Wayward Girl.
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For now, it is a tantalizing secret. Nodler, Bradley and the rest of us will find out a lot more in the fall. "I trust what's going to happen," Bradley says.
Bradley has reason to rely on her instincts. DiverseWorks has brought to Houston some of today's most innovative performers in America. And Parks promises to be a good match for IBP. The playwright is known for her lyrical poetic language, her nonlinear narratives and her odd characters (one character in Fucking A is the Rat Lady).
What could be better for IBP, the only company in Houston that could come up with a dream sequence involving sex with Prince Harry, and six-foot-tall dancing roaches?
-- Lee Williams