Theatre Southwest's 21st Festival of Originals Is For The Dogs (In A Good Way!)

It really is a dog's life for Sammy (Joseph Moore) and Maggie (Sydney Dunlap) in Stay.
It really is a dog's life for Sammy (Joseph Moore) and Maggie (Sydney Dunlap) in Stay. Photo by Scott McWhirter

Since 1997, Houston has been treated to the annual Festival of Originals out at Theatre Southwest and this year is no different. The game is same for veteran producer Mimi Holloway – five mini plays produced by five different directors and starring five different casts, all in one night. As per usual, Holloway promises these 20-minute compositions will have you releasing your emotions in the healthiest of ways.

After sifting through 800 scripts from across the globe, here’s a quick tease of the five shows Holloway handpicked to headline this year’s line-up:

LA native Thomas J. Misuraca returns with a new work after the warm reception his progressive coming-out comedy Joey and Chuck received at last year’s festival – but this year finds the playwright mining some drama out of the coupling process with Time Went By. “His play last year was the HIT of the ‘FOO,’ but this year’s script if very different and it is in fact, much gentler,” Holloway teases. “An older man (Harold, played by John Stevens) revisits a café where he first met his wife, who is now dead. And the theater is literally divided into two parts – his younger self [sits] where he can see his date with his first wife, and then on his side, he’s waiting on a date he met on the internet.”

Also: be on the lookout for returning actress Brittany Garcia, Holloway says. “You have a waitress who just steals the show, because it’s the SAME waitress in both scenes. With the younger couple she’s sweet, but by the time she crosses the stage, she’s all ‘Get on with it!’”

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In Time Went By, Harold is widowed and can’t get anyone’s attention. (From L-R, Tausheli McClure, Brit Garcia, and John Stevens).
Photo by Scott McWhirter

Karma by Anne Flannigan finds the hapless Paul (played by Sriram Vengalathur) in what appears on the surface to be the Department of Motor Vehicles... but looks can be deceiving. “Turns out he’s in purgatory,” Holloway reveals. “And since it’s a play, obviously, it isn’t quite what he expects. He sees himself dead, and gets un-dead, and it’s all very businesslike and different rules than he was expecting.” Without spoiling the ending – turns out the “man” in charge of the other side is someone very familiar indeed: his math teacher!

For fans of local talent, Theatre Southwest’s reliable Carl Williams returns with a play aptly titled Civilized Affairs. “He’s been writing a long time, he’s produced all over the U.S. and other countries and he’s the only [writer] we use multiple times.” Under the director of Rachel Watkins, the dramedy features Dan Potter as Hollis, an English professor caught in an affair gone wrong when “the young girl (Carian Parker), his co-ed, pops into his home uninvited” – much to the chagrin of his wife, Evelyn (Damonica Jenkins). But to the professor’s surprise, Evelyn greets young Kristi not with a scorn, but with a plate of donuts.

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Hollis tries desperately to keep his extra-curricular affairs and his home life separate in Civilized Discourse. (From L-R: Carian Parker, Dan Potter, and Damonica Jenkins).
Photo by Scott McWhirter

If family drama is your prevue, Alex Dremann’s The Bend In The Tree is here to provide the dysfunction. “The mother is dying, and like many mothers, is not particularly kind to her children and they’re not exactly pleasant to her. People want people’s houses and money and to break up people’s marriages.” Director Scott McWhirter also co-stars in the show as Charles, alongside a motley crew of talent including Jenna Morris, Willy Devlin and recognizable redhead Jada August.

Rounding out the evening is Stay by Dangey Kerr with actors Joseph Moore and Sydney Dunlap.  “This is a great play,” Holloway pronounces without hesitation. “This is a two-dog play, where a German Shepard and a Maltese have a ‘park reunion.’ They start off playing and having fun, but as the play progresses, we discover the Shepard has cancer and this turns into a story of how to say good-bye. It’s just lovely.”

After all these years at the helm, Holloway still can’t believe this is all still going sometimes. “Theses scripts just keep coming and coming. And we read them! The other night I was thinking, maybe I’m overdoing this. But guess what? We’re already signed up for FOO 22 next year!”

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays, July 20 through August 4 at 8944 Clarkcrest. For information, call 713-661-9505 or visit $17-19.

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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, or trying to hustle up a few laughs himself!
Contact: Vic Shuttee