Break of Noon – Houston Press Review

23 Nov


Kevin Daugherty and Bailey Hampton in Break of Noon. Photo by Jeff Howie.


Break of Noon

Written by: Neil LaBute

Directed by:  Trevor B. Cone

Company: Queensbury Theatre

Run Dates: November 19 – December 6, 2015


Read my review of Break of Noon for Houston Press at


Bridget Everett – Houston Press Review

5 Nov


Bridget Everett in action. Photo by Jessica Goldman.

Bridgett Everett

Presented By: Lott Entertainment as part of the Joe’s Pub Series in Houston

Run Dates: November 4 – 7, 2015

Read my review of Bridget Everett’s alt cabaret show for Houston Press at:

A Theatre Building Renaissance in Houston – American Theatre Magazine Article

4 Nov




You can read my article for American Theatre Magazine on the 5 new theatre spaces in Houston at:


A View From the Bridge – Houston Press Review

2 Nov


John Mitsakis as Eddie Carbone and Scott Holmes as  Alfieri in A View From the Bridge. Photo by Scott McWhirter.


A View From the Bridge

Written by: Arthur Miller

Directed by: Scott McWhirter

Company: Theatre Southwest

Run Dates: October 30 – November 21, 2015


Read my review of A View From the Bridge for Houston Press at:




The Other Place – Houston Press Review

30 Oct
Alley Theatre press scenes for The Other Place on 10-20-15 in Houston, Tx. photos by John Everett

Photo by John Everett


The Other Place

Written by: Sharr White

Directed by: Don Stephenson

Company: Alley Theatre

Run Dates: October 23 t0 November 15


Read my review of The Other Place for Houston Press at:



The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – Review

25 Oct


Luis Galindo in Stages Repertory Theatre’s production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Written by: Kristoffer Diaz

Directed by: Josh Morrison

Live Wrestling by: Doomsday Wrestling

Immersive Experience by: Horse Head Theatre Co.

Company: Stages Repertory Theatre

Run Dates: October 14 – November 8

If you’ll permit, a little personal history as a run-up to the review. For 3 years, professional wrestling was part of my life. My junior high school was situated just two short blocks away from my friend David’s house – a house graciously opened by his mother every day at noon so we could hang out, eat our bagged lunches and watch TV. Thankfully, the home availed us of two decent sized screens. The girls gathered upstairs to digest the audaciously un-ironic soap opera, The Young and the Restless while the boys of the bunch  hooted and hollered downstairs at whatever WWF aggrandized spectacle was on offer.

On our walk back to school, the girls would yammer about the latest fight between Victor and Nikki while the boys acted out Hulk Hogan moves, salivating about who would be his next victim. During those years I did occasionally venture down into the basement to see what all the fuss was about. Between the overblown drama on display in the ring and the almost gossipy obsession the boys had with the obviously scripted wrestler-characters, I came to the conclusion that professional wrestling was basically soap operas for guys. It’s a view I’ve held since then, expanded to acknowledge the sport’s female fans. But it wasn’t until seeing Kristopher Diaz’s, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, that it even occurred to me that wrestling is also political, racial and reflects some uncomfortable truths about us and the culture we live in. Or at least that’s what wrestling metaphorically shows us in Diaz’s smartly skewering and terrifically funny 2010 Pulitzer Prize nominated play.

And by play I really mean experience as this is a show that audiences feel and smell from the minute they enter the theatre foyer. Sparkly mini-skirted ring girls pose with images of muscle bulging wrestlers, strong wafts of popcorn emanate from treats kiosk, and while we know we arrived early to the show, sounds of a live wrestling match blast into the lobby hurrying us into the theatre for fear of missing out. It’s actually just the pre-show warm up, an action-filled wrestling bout courtesy of the comedy troupe Doomsday Wrestling cleverly getting the audience cheering and booing and in the mood for a story about wrestling.

As we hurriedly take our seats and figure all this out, it’s the show’s design that strikes us first. The entire stage, save for two alcove areas at the rear of the space, have been taken up with a huge, very realistic looking, wrestling ring replete with shock absorbing floor. And trust me, there will be shocks absorbed. This may be a Pulitzer nominee but Diaz’s script, here helped by Greg Vallot’s splendid fight direction, has his characters body slamming, head-locking and jumping off ropes throughout the show.

But it all begins with “The Mace”Macedonio Guerra (a spitfire performance by Luis Galindo), an underpaid, underappreciated workhorse wrestler in THE Wrestling organization. Mace, who serves as our narrator and sociopolitical commentator throughout the show, has one job and that is to take a fall and make the handsome but lesser talented champ look good. As he explains, “In wrestling you can’t kick a guy’s ass without the help of the guy whose ass you’re kicking.” And Mace is getting to the breaking point where he’s done with helping.

Through his brother and his brother (a nice piece of poetic rap-like dialogue repetition Diaz employs throughout his script) Mace meets a fast-talking, ego centric, ridiculously charismatic late-teen East Indian kid, Vigneshwar “VP” Paduar (Herman Gambhir showing how Brooklyn swagger is done!) and hatches a plan of sorts. Mace instantly realizes that VP has way more crowd appeal than present wrestling champ Chad Deity (the muscularly adept and patriotically vainglorious Roc Living) who’s shticky elaborate entrance into the ring the play is named for. So he introduces the kid to his boss, Everett K. “EKO” Olson (played with unctuous glee by Drake Simpson), the offensively politically incorrect on every front, money grubbing head of the wrestling organization, and with some prodding gets him to hire VP him. But not until EKO comes up with the marketing gold idea of casting VP as a Muslim fundamentalist (stage name, The Terrorist) and Mace as his Mexican Communist Rebel manager (stage name, Che Chavez Castro) as foils to Chad, his smoke and mirrors cash cow . Never mind that Mace is Puerto Rican, never mind that the kid can’t wrestle and never mind that the last wrestler cast as an Arab terrorist had to leave the organization when his storyline unfortunately coincided with the 2005 London bombings. Mostly never mind how offensive the whole thing is. “I didn’t tell him”, Mace sarcastically deadpans to us here and throughout the show to great comedic effect as he encounters bigotry, unfairness and lies told in the name of the American Dream.

It’s a brilliant move by Diaz to bury these ‘who are we and where are we headed as a society’ questions in the ring. Instead of preachy we get pummelling, instead of hand wringing and head shaking we get arm twisting and head locks. And by having us laugh at these outrageous characters in an industry we’ll never belong to, Diaz cunningly slips us medicine for our own good without us really knowing it.

What we do know is that despite the entertaining and demanding physical work on stage, this is a script that feels distinctly and deliciously literary thanks to Diaz’s poetic rhythm with dialogue. Mace’s narration comes at us fast and punchy with a kind of world-weary tough guy patios that ignites his frustration in lyrical cynicism. Kudos to Director Josh Morrison for allowing this unique feel not to be drowned out by the pounding on the mat. Compliments must also go to Morrison for teasing out ridiculous, comedic, often outrageous performances from his cast while still keeping them all within the realm of plausibility.

Plausibility when it comes to costumes for wrestling has a large berth and Costume Designer, Andrew Cloud, delights with his wardrobe that runs the gamut from skin tight wrestling shorts to Mexican ponchos and flowing turbans. Scenic Designer, Kevin Holden’s revolving alcove doors at the back of the stage were splendidly utilized to usher characters dramatically on and off the small stage behind the ring. Three large video screens used for both live action caption of the play and recorded video were humorously employed and thankfully not overly relied upon by Video and Graphics Designer, Peter Ton.

By the time the show comes to its climax (after an unnecessary intermission and a second act that’s a tad too long and without the same punch) it’s Mace that Diaz has us question. What role with his, “I didn’t say anything” has he played in the mess this story (and our society) has become? Why has he kept quiet and what would happen if he spoke up? With the final moments turning more serious, we are treated to a tyrannical monologue by Mace that has Galindo ripping the stage apart in a superbly exciting moment of acting.

Thanks to Diaz and this thrilling production, we can say with great glee and possibly even some social activism, yes, we are ready to rumble!

Henry V – Review

20 Oct


Bree Welch as King Henry & Ensemble. Photo by Pin Lim.


Henry V

Written by: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Julia Traber

Company: Classical Theatre Company

Run Dates: October 14 – November 1, 2015


“It’s not a gimmick, really”.

It’s the refrain we often here when directors of Shakespeare make decidedly non-traditional choices in their treatments of the Bard’s work. Will Romeo and Juliet be young lovers or seniors in a retirement home (as Toronto director/playwright Mitchell Cushman did with The Last of Romeo and Juliet)? What to do about the racial casting parameters in Othello (so wonderfully discussed in this recent NYTimes article )? How about setting Macbeth in an asylum with one actor taking on all the roles (that’s a head nod to you, Alan Cumming)?

The list of ways creative folks have tried to modernize, sexify, shake up and just plain sever from the norm when it comes to Shakespeare could fill pages. But probably the diversion getting the most attention these days is the gender swap. Whether it’s a reversion back to the Shakespearean tradition of men playing women as was recently done with Mark Rylance’s performance of The Countess Olivia on Broadway, or the women having their go at traditionally male roles like Helen Mirren’s turn as Prospera in Julie Taymor’s filmed version of The Tempest, a dick in chick’s clothes or vice versa makes headlines.

Personally, I love boundary pushing productions of Shakespeare. While a traditional treatment can still move me if the talent onstage is there, I much prefer at this point to see something new, challenging and risky when contemplating Shakespeare’s work. But….and I must strongly qualify BUT…not if the departure is employed simply to throw newess at us in an effort to stand out from the crowd without bringing substance back to the narrative. I don’t like gimmicks in any piece of theatre, least of all Shakespeare. By all means, do your darndest to give us something fresh – but make sure it enhances understanding of the play or opens up new doors to the work we haven’t considered before.

Which brings me to Classical Theatre’s staging of Henry V with; you guessed it, a woman in the title role. Actually Director Julia Traber has cast several women in male roles in this production. Courtney Lomelo steps into the Dauphin’s enemy shoes, Lindsay Ehrhardt takes on the comic relief role of soldier Nym and Shunté Lofton delivers royal go between messages as Montjoy. But really, it’s the choice of Bree Welch as Henry V that’s the attention grabbing move in this show.

So what of it? The good news is that Welch is splendid. Traber has chosen a gender blind treatment in this production meaning that Welch is free to play the warring King not specifically as a man or a woman, but as a character. With her long hair messily worn in a ponytail and dressed in black skinny jeans, a red studded leather jacket and Doc martins, Traber has Welch (and the rest of the similarly dressed cast) looking like a they just came out from seeing The Clash. This pre sexed-up punk era look suits Welch’s task perfectly, allowing her to appear tough without hiding her feminine attributes.

But it’s how Welch’s femaleness reverberates in the dialogue and delivery that’s the most compelling. Her ‘Once more unto the breach’ is effectively forceful, but rather than a testosterone-filled battle cry it feels maternally inspiring in a tiger mom ‘we can all do this together’ kind of fashion. When sending a message back to France warning them of ‘grief crazed mothers’ if they do not yield, Welch doesn’t fire up any manly chest beating threats but rather shows a cool and in control prickliness reminiscent of Streep’s Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada. But it’s the troop rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech and post battle moments where casting Welch really brings new meaning. In each instance, Welch’s eyes pool with tears in the face/ aftermath of battle, showing more emotionally intelligent insight into the risks and ravages of war than I’ve ever experienced from this character. The result is a more substantial and accessible Henry, far more attuned to his actions and comrades. Is this a female thing or simply Welch’s interpretation as an actor and are they one and the same? Hard to say, but there is no doubt that casting this actor in this role left the gimmick in the dust and instead gave us an eye-opening and terrifically compelling performance.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the rest of the production. Save for Welch, David Wald (giving a terrific turn as Chorus, our narrator) and Andrew Love (in various roles but most notably the Welsh Captain Fluellen), not a single member of the cast was up to the task of Shakespeare’s dialogue. At the best they sounded stiff, allowing their lines to resemble recitation rather than dialogue. At worst, the strain not to screw the language up resulted in some snicker-worthy moments. Additionally accents were heartily bungled (my ears are still bleeding from zee fahke Frehnch vay day spoke) and in one case an Irish soldier sounded more Jamaican patois than charmingly liltish.

Liz Freeze`s nicely moody set design which leaves the stage bare, flanking it instead with cluttered shelving and clothing hanging from racks and hooks, gave the cast great opportunities to change and grab small props on stage. However it wasn`t enough visually to hold our attention. Henry V is always a tricky play to stage with its build up to war/huge battle scenes and not much else in the way of character interaction going on. Traber tries to keep the energy up with rock music and to her credit does put the pedal to the medal moving things along in this trimmed down version, but limp fight scenes and lots of simply standing around by her cast dulls the momentum. Even the few comedic moments Shakespeare throws in to give the audience a break from Henry’s attack on France fail to offer relief due to performances unable to access the delicious humor of the language and hackneyed staging.

The Classical Theatre Company says in the show’s program that it’s been a while since they tackled Shakespeare and it shows. This is a company that puts on stellar work when it comes to other classical playwrights but seems to have a shallow talent pool at present when it comes to the Bard. Yes there is a shiny ball in Bree Welch, distracting our attention with both her commanding performance and the (as it turns out) intriguing gender factor. But no King can distract entirely from their band of brothers and while this production doesn’t die on the battlefield, it’s ultimately too painful to witness its wounds.


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