For two decades now, the good people of Theatre Southwest have been bringing new voices and stories to the stages of the Marie Pearsall Theatre with their annual new works showcase, dubbed The Festival of Originals. This year’s 20th-anniversary edition is set to be the group’s finest, with five exciting one-acts being presented under five different directors with five full casts of Houston thespians.
Festival producer and Theatre Southwest Artistic Director Mimi Holloway is happy to drum up excitement for this season’s offerings: “We have comedy, we have drama, we have mystery!” she says, laughing. “Joey and Chuck is an interesting one, because it’s a comedy that’s based on the idea that’s become old hat: a young gay man nervously introducing his lover to the family," she says. "But what it turns into is the family doesn’t worry about that; they worry more about the age difference! They say they’re such progressive parents, and then the guy comes and he’s three years older than the father.”
Joey and Chuck, penned by Los Angeles-based scribe Thomas J. Misuraca, is expertly directed by festival veteran Jay Menchaca, with a cast that features Suzanne King, Lance Stodghill, Brit Garcia, Matt Prideaux and J. Eric Dunlap. “Jay has directed most of the festivals, and has been in four or five too,” Holloway explains. “By this point, he really thinks this is his FOO, which is only right. He tends to wind up with the last show, which means he gets to make everyone stick around to the end of the night, the big comedy or what have you. So he certainly grumbles that he has to come to the rehearsals and stay the longest – though, of course, it’s a little bit of an honor and I think he likes to grumble.”
With this being the festival’s 20th year, the producer is confident Menchaca will continue his unique post-show traditions after the curtain falls. “We have our little rituals, and every year he has a karaoke party that he throws. And then he does a striptease for everybody,” she deadpans. “But I’ve seen it enough times for it to be old news. But for those seeing it for the first time, they’re really quite taken.”
Other originals that have Holloway's flag up are marriage drama The Next Move by New York writer William Ivor Fowkes, “twist-turn-what’s-happening-now mystery” Card Game by George Rapier, and comedy-mystery Elimination Game by “our good Houston writer” Carl Williams.
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Closing out the festival is an interesting tale of redemption and nostalgia with Blur in the Rear View by Aleks Merlio, a drama starring Austin Heps, Elizabeth Grant and John Patterson. “It’s interesting; a guy has gotten out of prison and he’s gone and looked up his old girlfriend, who is married now. He’s not trying to break them up, but he does want to see the car they were in, so he fixes it up and he has some conversations with her husband that turn a bit sinister.”
After culling though piles of international submissions, including scripts from New Zealand, England, Scotland, Canada and Ireland, Holloway says she remains impressed by the outpouring of interest her little stage receives. “I’m always rather surprised, but the Internet certainly helps get the word out. But I’ve been doing this all 20 years, and this is our 60th season too – so this is 60/20, you know?
"I don’t know if we’re feeling old, but I certainly am," she continues. "The theater was started in my living room, because my mother started it. But it’s been a long time. We’re doing a benefit and I’m going to speak, but I’m wondering, ‘How can I say all this without saying how old I am?” Hopefully, no one else can do mental math!”
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays, July 22 through August 6 at 8944 Clarkcrest. For information, call 713-661-9505 or visit theatresouthwest.org. $16-18.