Margaret Edson just might be the only kindergarten teacher in the country who can list the Pulitzer Prize on her résumé. But Edson is no ordinary teacher -- or writer, for that matter. It was just a couple of years ago that the unassuming teacher won the award for her stunning play, Wit. All about an erudite college professor who learns her greatest lessons while dealing with the ravages of stage-four ovarian cancer, the script is a knife blade of intelligence that cuts right into the guts of living and exposes some of the most foolish and destructive masks we live behind. The story, which ruminates on the artifice of university life and the obfuscating capacity of language, was rendered gorgeous and ultimately heartbreaking on the Alley stage under the direction of Martin Benson. Actor Megan Cole snapped professor Vivian Bearing to life and found her grieving heart underneath all the bombastic irony and wicked wit that had kept the iron-fisted English professor going throughout her life. Finely intimate and huge in its lessons about life, the production was the sort that lingers long into the dark night.
Margaret Edson just might be the only kindergarten teacher in the country who can list the Pulitzer Prize on her résumé. But Edson is no ordinary teacher -- or writer, for that matter. It was just a couple of years ago that the unassuming teacher won the award for her stunning play, Wit. All about an erudite college professor who learns her greatest lessons while dealing with the ravages of stage-four ovarian cancer, the script is a knife blade of intelligence that cuts right into the guts of living and exposes some of the most foolish and destructive masks we live behind. The story, which ruminates on the artifice of university life and the obfuscating capacity of language, was rendered gorgeous and ultimately heartbreaking on the Alley stage under the direction of Martin Benson. Actor Megan Cole snapped professor Vivian Bearing to life and found her grieving heart underneath all the bombastic irony and wicked wit that had kept the iron-fisted English professor going throughout her life. Finely intimate and huge in its lessons about life, the production was the sort that lingers long into the dark night.
Stand-up comedy in Shakespeare? How about slapstick? Or musical interludes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? The Alley's Gregory Boyd did all this and more in his irreverent and very funny take on one of Shakespeare's zaniest tales of mistaken identity, The Comedy of Errors. The Looney Tunes take time-warped the whole story out of the Renaissance and into the war-torn years of the 1940s. Boyd and company turned the mysterious land of Ephesus, where the play takes place, into a Casablanca-like town filled with smoky speakeasies and curvy, platinum-haired women dressed in creamy satin. Taking liberties with Shakespeare's script, Boyd situated one hysterical scene inside a sticky bar, where a Henny Youngman-style stand-up comedian told one-liners in Ephesian, a language Boyd invented. Images from the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Saturday-afternoon spaghetti westerns filled up the wild production, and the audience couldn't stop howling. Though the purists were spinning in their seats, surely Shakespeare would have approved of Boyd's brazen comedic balls.
Stand-up comedy in Shakespeare? How about slapstick? Or musical interludes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? The Alley's Gregory Boyd did all this and more in his irreverent and very funny take on one of Shakespeare's zaniest tales of mistaken identity, The Comedy of Errors. The Looney Tunes take time-warped the whole story out of the Renaissance and into the war-torn years of the 1940s. Boyd and company turned the mysterious land of Ephesus, where the play takes place, into a Casablanca-like town filled with smoky speakeasies and curvy, platinum-haired women dressed in creamy satin. Taking liberties with Shakespeare's script, Boyd situated one hysterical scene inside a sticky bar, where a Henny Youngman-style stand-up comedian told one-liners in Ephesian, a language Boyd invented. Images from the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Saturday-afternoon spaghetti westerns filled up the wild production, and the audience couldn't stop howling. Though the purists were spinning in their seats, surely Shakespeare would have approved of Boyd's brazen comedic balls.
Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly is perhaps one of the silliest, funniest and even bravest autobiographical scripts ever penned. Totally gay and wonderfully queeny, the odd synthesis of old-fashioned musical and screeching wildness set up camp at Masquerade Theatre, and there it spun a magical haze of hilarious hair-sprayed boys behaving like girls. Punny and irreverent, the songs about gay love attacked the right-wing agenda with all the long-nailed vengeance of a catfight out of control. Especially good was Matthew George, who purred out a recurring song in which he claimed to burn for such far-right codgers as Strom Thurmond: "Strom," he sang, "go ask your mom if I can take you to the senior, senior, senior prom." This sort of salacious political satire was made even better by a series of visual gags that included a lifelike Bette Davis dummy that was wheeled onto the stage in full Baby Jane drag. Pushing all sorts of important political buttons without indulging in a single moment of maudlin self-pity, Crabtree's show and Masquerade's wonderful production showed us how serious good raucous camp can be.
Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly is perhaps one of the silliest, funniest and even bravest autobiographical scripts ever penned. Totally gay and wonderfully queeny, the odd synthesis of old-fashioned musical and screeching wildness set up camp at Masquerade Theatre, and there it spun a magical haze of hilarious hair-sprayed boys behaving like girls. Punny and irreverent, the songs about gay love attacked the right-wing agenda with all the long-nailed vengeance of a catfight out of control. Especially good was Matthew George, who purred out a recurring song in which he claimed to burn for such far-right codgers as Strom Thurmond: "Strom," he sang, "go ask your mom if I can take you to the senior, senior, senior prom." This sort of salacious political satire was made even better by a series of visual gags that included a lifelike Bette Davis dummy that was wheeled onto the stage in full Baby Jane drag. Pushing all sorts of important political buttons without indulging in a single moment of maudlin self-pity, Crabtree's show and Masquerade's wonderful production showed us how serious good raucous camp can be.
There is no worse time to go to the theater than that seven-week period so innocently referred to as the holiday season, a time in which playhouses all over town prove that they can be as money-grubbing as the next tawdry business. Just look at all the lame productions of A Christmas Carol that begin trickling over the musty boards somewhere in mid-November. It's enough to make you want to boo those wretched Crachits off the stage once and for all. Thank heavens for Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Only they had the cojones and the artistic spine not to mount yet another insipid production about the joys of giving just so they could get their share of the holiday dough. Instead of sweetness and light, IBP's December production of David Mamet's Edmond pounded with a coal-black darkness that must have been inspired by the devil himself. The savage and demonic theatrical production -- all about the absence of meaning in our modern world -- was everything that most holiday shows are not: astonishing, riveting and utterly thrilling. And the lessons it taught about narcissism, greed and the violence of living were more meaningful than anything any ghost -- past, present or future -- could shake a chain at.
There is no worse time to go to the theater than that seven-week period so innocently referred to as the holiday season, a time in which playhouses all over town prove that they can be as money-grubbing as the next tawdry business. Just look at all the lame productions of A Christmas Carol that begin trickling over the musty boards somewhere in mid-November. It's enough to make you want to boo those wretched Crachits off the stage once and for all. Thank heavens for Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Only they had the cojones and the artistic spine not to mount yet another insipid production about the joys of giving just so they could get their share of the holiday dough. Instead of sweetness and light, IBP's December production of David Mamet's Edmond pounded with a coal-black darkness that must have been inspired by the devil himself. The savage and demonic theatrical production -- all about the absence of meaning in our modern world -- was everything that most holiday shows are not: astonishing, riveting and utterly thrilling. And the lessons it taught about narcissism, greed and the violence of living were more meaningful than anything any ghost -- past, present or future -- could shake a chain at.
Sig Byrd spent years as a columnist with the old daily Houston Press and later moved to the Houston Chronicle, but his columns, compiled and connected here, read today like nothing you'd expect to find in a newspaper, daily or otherwise. Downtown, when there was still a thing called Vinegar Hill there, and the Hispanic east side were his favorite beats, and if Sig Byrd's Houston reads like a different town entirely, that's partly because it was, and partly because of Byrd himself, whose ear was finely tuned to the town's skid rows: "Raquel, who comes to Martin Nelson's photo parlor to have her picture made every payday, is about 17, small for her age and as cute as a speckled pup. Bark-brown hair, curly; limpid brown eyes, golden-tan cheeks and lush red lips. Petite figure. You know the type. In certain circumstances she could go far. But living in the Second Ward and working as a tomato packer at a place on lower Louisiana Street, she will never go much of anywhere. By the time she is 25 the freshness and bloom will be gone from her face and figure, and at 30 she will not even resemble the pictures made of her at 17." As with Raquel, so with Houston. At least there are still a few stray copies of this photograph floating around.
Sig Byrd spent years as a columnist with the old daily Houston Press and later moved to the Houston Chronicle, but his columns, compiled and connected here, read today like nothing you'd expect to find in a newspaper, daily or otherwise. Downtown, when there was still a thing called Vinegar Hill there, and the Hispanic east side were his favorite beats, and if Sig Byrd's Houston reads like a different town entirely, that's partly because it was, and partly because of Byrd himself, whose ear was finely tuned to the town's skid rows: "Raquel, who comes to Martin Nelson's photo parlor to have her picture made every payday, is about 17, small for her age and as cute as a speckled pup. Bark-brown hair, curly; limpid brown eyes, golden-tan cheeks and lush red lips. Petite figure. You know the type. In certain circumstances she could go far. But living in the Second Ward and working as a tomato packer at a place on lower Louisiana Street, she will never go much of anywhere. By the time she is 25 the freshness and bloom will be gone from her face and figure, and at 30 she will not even resemble the pictures made of her at 17." As with Raquel, so with Houston. At least there are still a few stray copies of this photograph floating around.

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