“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” ― George Orwell, 1984
Prior to this pandemic thing, one of the things that I liked was to go The Dallas Theater Center plays on their “Pay what you can” performances. These are basically dress rehearsals that you can attend and pay whatever you feel like. I usually pay five dollars. I realize reading this written here makes me sound cheap. I am… although there is a fine line between cheap and poor… a line I straddle.
I have seen maybe a dozen plays this way. It is worth five bucks just to visit the Wyly theater in the Dallas Arts District – a very, very cool venue.
So now, as we return to normal, the plays have started up again. Next up was a world premiere, “The Supreme Leader,” and I scored a couple tickets for a tenner. I was planning on going down to the Wyly when I looked at my confirmation email a little closer and realized the play wasn’t there – it was at the Kalita Humphries theater.
Which was cool. I saw a play there, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a handful of decades ago – but haven’t been back since. The Kalita Humphries is a historical venue – the only theater designed by Frank Loyd Wright.
I couldn’t get anyone to go with me (Candy and Lee had plans to see a movie) so I wasted a ticket and went by myself. The Kalita Humphries is in a beautiful spot along Turtle Creek north of downtown Dallas… it was a beautiful day so I drove down early and spent some time on a park bench reading Humberto Eco.
The play was good. It is the story of Kim Jong-Un in his final days of being a high school senior at a private school for the children of diplomats in Switzerland. His frustrated relationship with a beautiful and headstrong classmate is the final straw that changes him from a nerdy shy teenager to the monster he became, “The Supreme Leader.”
All in all, a good bit of fun. It is so nice to get out again – to see actual live people again.
“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these?”
—-William Shakespeare, King Lear
Well Endowed King
Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.
At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.
The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.
The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.
Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.
“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.
The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.
And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.
While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS PERFORMANCE CONTAINS NUDITY
Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.
One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.
Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.
As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.
The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.
It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.
The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.
Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.
And all Hell broke loose.
Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.
And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.
Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.
The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.
Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.
The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.
Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.
Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).
The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.
Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.
The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.
And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.
Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.
“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
Dallas Theater Center Wyly Theater Dallas, Texas
A couple weeks ago, I received an email notification of tickets being on sale for Shakespear’s The Winter’s Tale at the Wyly in the Dallas Arts District. I am always up for a play at the Wyly so I clicked in. They were almost all gone, but I found two seats together for a Sunday Matinee performance. When I checked out, I discovered that the play was free… better still.
I was wrong. Between the “pay what you can” dates (essentially being able to attend a final dress rehearsal) and other special performances I am able to go a few times a year without breaking the bank.
This free performance was put on by The Public Works and was a mix of professional and volunteer actors. I knew nothing about it and The Winter’s Tale was one of the few Shakespeare plays I’ve never seen. So I was excited. It turns out that my son would be up for the weekend, so we decided that he and I would take the DART train downtown, go to the play, and meet up with Candy afterward.
The play was fun. The trained actors were easy to spot – but they were good enough to carry the night (or afternoon). The play had music added – music of every imaginable genre and style – from hoe-down country, to a Mariachi Band, to a New Orleans Second Line, and more. The only performance that seemed a bit too out there was a number by the Dallas Maverick Dancers in their cheerleader outfits. That was a bit strange – but still entertaining.
I had never been to the Wyly for a matinee. At the end of a play, the outer curtains are raised, exposing the outer wall of the Borg-like metal cube. At night this is no big deal, but in the afternoon the sun streamed in, making the top of the building seem to float in the sky.
Nick and I walked outside and started to walk to Deep Ellum, where we would meet Candy. It was about a mile and a half – doable, but a long walk in the heat.
But, there on the corner, was two Lime rental electric scooters. After the lunacy of the invasion of the rental bikes, Dallas has now picked up on the dockless scooter craze – they are all over downtown and Deep Ellum – at certain times there are more people on scooters than in cars.
Nick and I grinned, loaded the apps on our phones and unlocked the scooters. Being a Millenial, he was quicker at this and shot off down Ross. When mine beeped and lit up I thought, “Better go into this parking lot here and practice for a minute.” To the best of my memory I have never been on a scooter in my life – let alone an electric one. But my son was already moving away and I decided, what the hell, and hopped on, kicked twice and pressed the GO button.
We sped down Ross (the scooters go… what? maybe 15 miles per hour, but it feels really fast) and the light was green with no traffic so we turned down Good Latimer towards Deep Ellum. It was a blast. At the end of the block was a big red light and beyond that were the busy lanes of the Highway 75 frontage and the DART train tracks.
And I realized I had no idea how to stop the scooter.
“How do I stop?!” I yelled, while I flailed around.
“On the left!” shouted Nick.
I remembered seeing scooters with brakes in the rear and fished around with my back foot – nothing. Meanwhile, I tried steering back and forth, then dragging a foot. I was slowing, but not fast enough. As I went by, Nick reached out and grabbed me, causing me to skid off the road into the grassy area bordering the train tracks. I stopped and didn’t fall, though it was plenty scary.
I looked at the scooter and, sure enough, there was a brake lever on the left handlebar. I had been so engrossed and then so panicked, I never saw it.
The rest of the ride was easy – a hand brake is a really good idea. We dropped our scooters in front of Braindead and before we were through the door someone else rented them and sped off. We ate at Monkey King and then stopped off at Armoury D.E. (one of my favorite spots – great craft cocktails) and The Anvil Pub. It was only a block or two of walking, but Nick kept renting scooters and going around the block. He thought it was great. They only cost a couple bucks for a short trip.
I never could figure out why I would ride a rental bike in Dallas – I have my own bikes (though I enjoyed riding one in New Orleans) but those scooters are another thing. They are actually a replacement for walking. If you have more than a couple blocks (but less than a couple miles) to cover, especially in the heat, they are a great option.
If I was to ride one on a regular basis, say on a commute to work, I would definitely wear a helmet (when you rent one, you agree to wear a helmet, but I’ve never seen anyone actually with head protection).
This is a brave new world, that has such people in it.
“Exit, pursued by a bear.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
“Is growin’ up always miserable?” Sonny asked. “Nobody seems to enjoy it much.”
“Oh, it ain’t necessarily misearble,” Sam replied. “About eighty percent of the time, I guess.”
They were silent again, Sam the Lion thinking of the lovely, spritely girl he had once led into the water, right there, where they were sitting.
“We ought to go to a real fishin’ tank next year,” Sam said finally. “It don’t do to think about things like that too much. If she were here now I’d probably be crazy again in about five minutes. Ain’t that ridiculous?”
A half-hour later, when they had gathered up the gear and were on the way to town, he answered his own question. “It ain’t really, ” he said. “Being crazy about a woman like her’s always the right thing to do. Being a decrepit old bag of bones is what’s ridiculous.”
― Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
During intermission I was talking to a guy about my age standing in our row at the Wyly – he was standing because the saxophone player was sitting in his seat and refusing to budge until the second act started and I was standing to be polite to him. We were wondering about when The Rocky Horror Showpremiered in London – we guessed 1974, and were off by a year (it was born in 1973). The more well-known movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made in 1975.
The film famously (and truth be told, deservedly) bombed at the box office upon it initial, conventional release. I saw it about a year later, late ’76 or early ’77, at a special showing at college. It hadn’t hit its big, cult status yet – but it was on the cusp and there was a lot of buzz about it. I barely remember seeing it for the first time – the projection was bad and the sound was worse – it didn’t make much of an impression.
That changed soon enough. I was the right age to fall into the habit of going to midnight movie showings and saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show maybe fifty times. It began to be a habit, like watching the six o’clock news after work.
Then, in the early eighties, I saw a stage production here in Dallas in the West End. That production was specifically designed to mirror the movie as much as possible. It was in a small theater and for one show I was able to get front-row seats (I saw it twice). Dr. Frankenfurter sat in my lap and sang a song – I remember his leather jacket reeked.
The live play was a blast – especially in a small venue. We actually were able to go to a bar with the cast afterward.
One nice thing was that they weren’t afraid to stray from the familiar film tropes. Rocky, for example had dark hair. The actor playing Dr. Frankenfurter had the good sense to not channel Tim Curry’s iconic performance and to make the good doctor his own. He was kind of a Texas Frankenfurter… maybe a little, maybe – a bit different at any rate. But really, really good.
The show was not afraid to be quite a bit raunchier that the film. For example (I’ll try to avoid overt spoilers) there is one quick scene involving the Doctor, Brad Majors, a hand-powered egg beater, and the line, “Well, we just lost the Baptists.”
The best thing about the show was the pure action – especially of the first act. There is so much going on – the music is underrated and comes across powerfully live – with dancing, costumes, lights, and rolls of toilet paper being flung from the crowd through the flashing lights like a shower of tissue comets. At the intermission a woman sitting next to me stumbled around a little dizzy, “Oh, I’m having a fangirl moment,” she said.
The Wyly is a perfect venue for this – the flexible space was arranged so that there was no clear demarcation between audience and stage – the performers spent most of their time in the crowd and more than a few spectators ended up dancing with the stars.
Dallas Theater Center Wyly Theater Dallas, Texas
So if you find yourself in Dallas in late September through mid October, see if you can get down to the Wyly for some slightly guilty fun. And if you are a devout Baptist… well, good luck with all that.
I was excited when I heard about the Center’s new initiative, the Elevator Project. This gives six local theater groups: African American Repertory Theater, Cara Mia Theatre Co., Dallas Actor’s Lab, DGDG: The Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Second Thought Theatre and Upstart Productions – an opportunity to stage one play each in the Wyly over the next year.
These plays won’t be in the large main auditorium, but in smaller spaces on the sixth and ninth floors of the giant Borg-Cube like building. And yes, you do ride an elevator from the below-grade lobby to reach the shows.
Dallas Theater Center Wyly Theater Dallas, Texas
I had seen one show, Red, in the ninth floor space (completely redone – you had no idea where you were – it felt like a New York artists’ studio). While it was running on the ninth floor, King Lear was going on downstairs.
The first production in the Elevator Series is done by Upstart Productions and is a work called Year of the Rooster. It is presented in the sixth-floor black box theater area – where I had never been. I wanted to go on one of the first nights, but work has been kicking my ass and I wasn’t able to get there until today, for a Sunday Matinee performance. I thought about riding my bike down there, but it was too hot (and ungodly humid) so I settled for a train ride.
I made a particular effort to not read anything about the play beforehand – to leave an element of surprise. I only knew that it involved at least one chicken.
The play was crackerjack. It was a harrowing tale of a struggling McDonald’s clerk, trying to keep his elderly mother supplied with stolen honey mustard packets without getting fired – who has only one chance at success, escape, and redemption – his fighting cock, Odysseus Rex.
The protagonist chicken is played by Joey Folsom as a spring-steel tight PED drugged bundle of avian rage and hate flashing a folding knife like it is his only hope in the world. Steph Garrett plays dual roles as an over-ambitious McDonald’s manager and as Odysseus Rex’s love interest – an overweight, cage-raised, soon-to-be-fried hen.
It’s not always a pleasant tale – full of salty language and Oklahoma doom. The fight scenes are exciting and a bit frightening in the small space of the sixth floor black box. In the end it’s an unforgettable entertainment – you can’t make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs.
The odd thing about a matinee performance is that you emerge from the darkness of the play into the unexpected and almost forgotten fiery light and withering heat of the late afternoon. The world is still there – though somehow always changed by the entertainment you have sat through. And that’s the mark of a good play – because of what you have seen – what you have lived through – you now see the world a little differently. You know something you didn’t before.
Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from “licensing” the song). However, as we’ve been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain.
A five thousand dollar Dahon folding bike… wow. I don’t feel so bad about the cash I spent on my Xootr.
Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage (click to enlarge)
The basic fold on the Xootr Swift. It basically folds in half – and it only takes a few sconds. Not a tiny package – but small enough to make the bike more practical to transport or store.
I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.
My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.
Have you ever dreamed of leisurely peddling on your bike without having to subconsciously worry about traffic? Ever wanted to walk down the middle lane of a typically busy street to get to Klyde Warren Park? Well, your dream will become a reality this Memorial Day!
Uptown Ciclovia (if you don’t know about it yet, Ciclo-what should catch you up to speed) is a car-free experience that will connect the Katy Trail to Klyde Warren Park via Cedar Springs Road on May 26th. By closing the street to automobiles, people may enjoy the street however they so choose- run, walk, bike, skip, hop, dance, roller-skate, etc. The best part? There will be no cars to get in your way. I repeat- there will be NO cars! Have you ever been on a Dallas street and without seeing cars? Exactly.
We need to rethink our urban areas. They need to be redesigned around a new set of values, one that doesn’t seek to accommodate bikers and pedestrians within an auto-dominated environment but instead does the opposite: accommodates automobiles in an environment dominated by people. It is people that create value. It is people that build wealth. It is in prioritizing their needs – whether on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair – that we will begin to change the financial health of our cities and truly make them strong towns.
A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies looks at the salaries of top administrators at many of the public universities around the country and draws some very interesting conclusions that any graduates of these schools with high debt loads will not be surprised to know. The most fundamental of these is that high pay of university presidents goes hand in hand with lower pay for faculty members and higher student debt on average.
Bike lane merging with right turn lane at Beltline road.
It is possible, even probable, experts say, because of the way Americans have designed their streets for hundreds of years — essentially viewing pedestrian fatalities as the cost of doing business, as the collateral damage of speed and progress.
“Traditionally we build assuming that drivers and pedestrians will do the right thing even though we know that humans are flawed,” says Claes Tingvall, the director of Traffic Safety for the Swedish Transport Administration, in an interview with Yahoo News. “You don’t design an elevator or an airplane or a nuclear power station on the assumption that everyone will do the right thing. You design it assuming they will make mistakes, and build in ways that withstand and minimize error.”
For nearly 20 years, Sweden has been building on that latter assumption, rethinking and revamping its transportation system, both the philosophy and the nuts and bolts. They call this 1997 legislation Vision Zero — meaning the goal is to reach zero pedestrian deaths in all of Sweden — and under the program people are valued over cars, safety over efficiency. Streets have been narrowed; speed limits have been lowered. Above all, the Swedes have declared an end to the argument over whether safety violations should be punished or prevented. Voting for problem solving over finger pointing, they view collisions as warnings that some fix — a differently timed light, a better lit intersection — is needed.
Reading about this terrible tragedy made me think of the near misses I’ve had lately. They all were in the same situation that killed that poor boy. Crossing in a crosswalk with a green light and the little walk light is a death trap for a pedestrian or a cyclist. The problem is that the left-turning cars are not looking in the crosswalk – they are looking at the oncoming traffic. They say to themselves, “I can make this turn if I hurry up!” – step on the accelerator and turn into people in the crosswalk.
One cause is the poor design of intersections. The root cause is people driving too fast. Both can be solved with better road design, but it takes a paridigm shift – one that I think can only occur in someone that is walking and/or biking a lot in the city.
A terrible string of fatal bike crashes in the Tampa area in late 2011 and early 2012 left the local bike community reeling.
As they shared each awful tragedy with us, we too felt frustrated and powerless. We also realized how little we really knew about the circumstances of serious crashes between bikes and cars, and how woefully inadequate (and late) the available data was at the national level.
For a 12-month period, we set about the grim task of tracking and documenting every fatal traffic crash involving a bicyclist captured by relevant internet search terms. We also wanted to offer a place to remember the victims and raise the hope that their deaths would at least inform efforts to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Believe it or not biking does not have to be a full-fledged cardio workout every time you go for a ride. In fact, a lot of countries seem to be on to something that many of us in the States have yet to fully embrace, the idea of a “slow ride.”
My whole idea of cycling is to ride as slowly as possible (and still get to where I need/want to be). Unfortunately, a lot of this is the fact that the engine on my bicycle is old and worn out. I like riding slowly, but I do miss having the options.
THE STORY: The world’s greatest detective has seemingly reached the end of his remarkable career when a case presents itself that is too tempting to ignore: The King of Bohemia is about to be blackmailed by a notorious photograph, and the woman at the heart of this crime is the famous opera singer, Irene Adler. With his trusted companion, Doctor Watson, at his side, Sherlock Holmes pursues first the case, and then the affections of Miss Adler—and in doing so, marches right into the lair of his longtime adversary, that malevolent genius of crime: Professor Moriarty. In this spirited, fast-moving and thoroughly theatrical adaptation, Steven Dietz presents Holmes at the height of his powers—surrounded by all the elements that fans of his exploits have come to expect: danger, intrigue, wit, humor and surprise. “The game is afoot, Watson—and it is a dangerous one!”
As I have said before, I remember watching the enormous Borg Cube of the Wyly Theater going up in the shiny new Dallas Arts District and thinking, “What a cool place! Such a shame I’ll never be able to afford to go to a play there.”
The Wyly Theater.
I was wrong. By judicious actions and careful attention to the Internet – I have been able to find a series of bargains and go to a play down at the Wyly on a fairly regular basis. My most reliable source for affordable seats is the Dallas Theater Center’s Pay What You Can performances. As each play opens, the first performance is open to anyone and the price is what you think you can afford. I guess one way to look at it is that it’s a bargain admission to what really is a final dress rehearsal – but I have really enjoyed all the performances I’ve seen.
This time around it was Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. I logged in exactly at ten – when the tickets went on sale – and I’m glad I did. The show sold out in eight minutes. I managed to snag tickets for myself and a couple friends from my writing group.
The play was a lot of fun. It was nice to see a straight play – nothing special (although the moving sets were ingenious and effective) except a handful of actors standing out there delivering the classic Arthur Conan Doyle lines.
I won’t give away any secrets – although this isn’t so much a whodunit as much as it is a chess game between Holmes and his greatest enemy, Moriarty. The play is faithful, with a little bit of updating (a modern love story, a very strong female character, and an emphasis on Holmes’ drug use) to make it engaging to a 21st century audience, but it keeps the quaint style and innocent entertainment.
Opening night, there were a few hiccups. The opening was delayed by a few minutes with sound board problems, but the crowd entertained itself with the start of a wave. But all was forgiven and a lot of smiles came out at the end.
Now, the next play at the Wyly is Le Mis. I’ll have to have fast fingers, I’m sure it’ll sell out even faster.
The Dallas Theater Center has this thing, these “pay what you can” nights. These are opening performances where you can get a ticket for whatever you want. These are great for me, because I couldn’t afford to go to the Wyly otherwise.
I have never read the book, so I knew nothing of the story. There was nothing on the web about the musical – which isn’t surprising, because this is the premiere. That was actually sort of exciting – other than workshops and previews and such, this was the first time anyone had seen The Fortress of Solitude.
My son Lee is in town after graduation, staying for a few days before going back to New Orleans to work. We took the DART train downtown and walked over to the Wyly. Before the curtain came up, Lee asked, “Where is the orchestra pit?” I said there wasn’t one and I guessed they would use tape. Once the play started, however, a screen rose to show the musicians up on a scaffold above most of the action. There was a conductor down in front, facing a blank wall, directing into a small video camera – and her image was displayed on several carefully placed screens for the musicians and singers.
The musical was crackerjack. I imagine the source material isn’t the most obvious place to pull song and dance – and that made the story a lot more subtle and complex that the usual “girl meets boy” plot. The songs were great, especially when they were used to give a sense of time passing from the 1970’s to the turn of the century – from rock to soul to folk to rap to punk and finally, even a little Talking Heads thrown in.
It was a good time.
Our original seats were up on the third balcony (all good – there isn’t a bad seat in the Wyly) but a numbering mess-up had us move down into the orchestra level. I noticed a man sitting next to Lee holding a small notepad and scribbling all through the first act. During intermission I looked through the program and realized that the man was Daniel Aukin (I think), who conceived and directed the play. It must have been exciting for him to see his creation in front of a full audience for the first time.
Later, after the ovation died down, he asked Lee, “Well, how did you guys like it?” Lee said it was awesome. And it was.
Now, the next play is Sherlock Holmes and pay what you can tickets will be sold on April 21. Get in quick, they go fast.