The Winter’s Tale

“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.

When the Wyly was built I was amazed by the architecture and unique coolness of the venue, but I thought to myself, “Shame I’m poor – I’ll never be able to actually see anything there.”

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

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.

The next day, the news was covering the story that a young man had died on a scooter in East Dallas over the same weekend (though the story is a bit weird). With this many people riding these, there are sure to be more accidents.

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

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 5 – Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 4 – Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem
Read it online here:

Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem

And, after the insipid triumphalist overture of music and video and prancing androgynous spandex, when the orcas finally entered the arena and began their leaping, SeaWorld was overwritten by their absolute and devastating presence. By their act of stitching two realms together, sky and water, merely for the delight of a stadium full of children—children who, in response, leaped, too, and vibrated in their seats, and gurgled incoherently, practically speaking in tongues. Other kids, older and more intrepid than his own, raced down to the plastic barrier to be splashed, to stand with their arms flapping. The killer whales, with their Emmett Kelly eyes, were God’s glorious lethal clowns. Their plush muscular bodies were the most unashamed things Pending Vegan had ever seen. Like panda bears redesigned by Albert Speer.

—-Jonathan Lethem, Pending Vegan

A few years ago, my son Lee and I went down to the Dallas Theater Center’s Wyly Theater to see a new musical, The Fortress of Solitude, adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s eponymous novel. It was Pay What You Can Night (pretty much the only way I can see quality live theater on an ongoing basis) – which is cool, though what we saw was essentially a dress rehearsal open to the public. Because of this, there was a bit of confusion and we discovered that our assigned seats weren’t there (the Wyly is infinitely reconfigurable and they had configured our seats out of existence). No problem, the box office had alternate seats which were better anyway (not that the Wyly has any bad seats) – we were placed in a line of vacant seats right up front. Two men sat next to us at the last minute.

The play was excellent, very enjoyable. I never read the novel, so I don’t know if it followed or did justice, but as a night of live musical entertainment, it fit the playbill. As the play ended, the man sitting next to Lee started asking him a series of questions, “Did you like the musical?” “What songs did you like?” – the inquiry seemed more pointed than curious. I looked at the man and at the Playbill folder in my hand and realized this was the author (of the play, not Jonathan Lethem, alas). The idea was to premiere the musical in the hinterlands (Dallas), iron out the rough spots, them move to Off Broadway (Public Theater) then, eventually, to the Great White Way.

It looks like the momentum has stalled and it probably never will make it to Broadway… but at least I saw it.

Today’s story, also by Jonathan Lethem, is a chronicle of a family’s trip to Sea World in San Diego. The protagonist is struggling with a sudden attack of giving a damn about animals and, possibly more importantly, just now coming off his prescription to anti-depressants. His doctor warns him he might, “see bums and pickpockets.” Worried that he might hallucinate, the doctor assures him that he won’t imagine them, he may simply notice them.

I, of course, have been to Sea World (the San Antonio version) with unruly children a couple of times. I dealt with it a little bit differently than the father in the story – I didn’t think about it. It was a day for the kids and all I was responsible for was trying my best they didn’t get eaten by sharks or destroy an expensive exhibit. All other thoughts were put on hold.

For about a quarter century.

—–

In the interview below, Lethem says, “I’d also have trouble imagining a fiction writer who, after visiting the place, wouldn’t start fooling around with story ideas.” When I first read this I disagreed – I couldn’t think of any story ideas from SeaWorld.

Then I remembered seeing the Shamu show one year. The Orca wasn’t in a good mood and basically stayed at the bottom of his tank and refused to do any tricks. He was the male in the pod and the two females were in the lake outside of the arena. They kept surfacing and making these loud sounds. There is no doubt they were laughing at him.

The neoprene-wet-suited show people tried to get on with the act. They even brought a volunteer from the audience out to try and coax him into getting to work. I thought, “Man, if I had a humiliated, cranky, and uncooperative killer whale at the bottom of a tank, the last thing I’d want to do is lean out and wiggle a fish over him.”

Hmmm. I guess that is an idea for a story.

Interview with Jonathan Lethem about this story:

This week’s story, “Pending Vegan,” follows one family, a husband and wife and their four-year-old twin daughters, on a trip to San Diego’s SeaWorld. When did you start thinking about using SeaWorld as the setting for a story? Did you ever consider inventing the theme park and fictionalizing everything, or was it important that the story be set in a real place?

This story really began with a class I taught, called Animals in Literature. I assigned Jack London, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, Olaf Stapledon, Lydia Millet, J. R. Ackerley, and a bunch of other stuff, including some essays and theory. (Animals are actually pretty “hot” in theory now.) In the spirit of due diligence, I also read a bunch of animal-rights and vegan manifestos, which is how I blundered into the realm of “Fear of the Animal Planet” and so forth—books I purchased, and which sit staring at me from the shelf, even if I failed to assign them or, in many cases, even to read them. I suppose some of this bad faith leaked into the characters: What would it be to think you’ve gone about halfway, or not even halfway, down some irreversible ethical path, then got stuck there?

Of course all this remained inchoate until suddenly I visited SeaWorld. I can’t imagine anyone setting a story there who hadn’t visited. (I’d also have trouble imagining a fiction writer who, after visiting the place, wouldn’t start fooling around with story ideas.) Long ago, I’d have been certain to disguise it as “Fathomverse,” or “Poseidon’s Playhouse,” or “Orcasm,” or something. But that wouldn’t really be likely to fool anyone, would it? A lot of fiction—most?—derives some of its effects, and energy, from its hybrid nature: half documentary, or half confession or argument or whatever, and full of references outside itself, whether obvious to the reader or not. I’ve made my peace with this. Besides, I’d have had to give up “Sea World, Eat World.”

The story’s protagonist, Paul Espeseth, is going through a crisis of sorts, which he has hidden from both his family and his shrink. He’s renamed himself Pending Vegan as a way of acknowledging his increasing uneasiness with the relationship between man and beast, yet he’s acutely aware of his daughters’ ability to reconcile “their native animal-love and the pleasures of eating.” What’s it like to imagine a child’s version of the animal world versus an adult’s?

Forget “animal world” —what about just “world”? Where’s the script for breaking the news, to a kid, of reality’s roaring wackness? Its moral bankruptcy? Imagine a scene from the breakfast table with a six-year-old listening to an NPR report on the firing of nine air-force commanders over cheating on the tests to qualify as officers for oversight of nuclear missiles.
Six-year-old: “What did they cheat on?”
Father (already in trouble): “Well, see, they were in, like, ‘soldier school’…”
Six-year-old: “Don’t they know it was wrong?”
Father: “———”
Six-year-old: “What are nuclear missiles?”
Father: “———”
Six-year-old: “Why would they cheat? Don’t they want to be good at fighting?”
Father (suddenly impassioned, intense): “Well, actually, the reason this matters so much is that nuclear missiles are these weapons we don’t want anyone ever to use…” (He stops at brink of disaster.)
Six-year old: “—?!?—”
Father: “Uh, eat your pineapple.”
Six-year old: “My teacher told me that pineapple was bad for your skin.”
Father (with relief): “She’s definitely wrong.”

A dog bounds into the story in its final page. It’s not the first time dogs have shown up in your work (“Ava’s Apartment,” for example, an excerpt we published from your novel “Chronic City,” features a memorable three-legged dog). Do dogs hold a particular place in your imagination? Can you imagine a cat exercising as much power?

Cat person or dog person? Funny about that. I grew up with cats; I’m more familiar with them, more fond of them, and I identify with them more. My parents bred Siamese cats for a while, and in a lot of baby pictures I’m seen swimming in a mass of kittens. Dogs were in stories, first: “Nobody’s Boy,” “The Incredible Journey,” Jack London’s and—especially—Albert Payson Terhune’s work. I was probably the last boy in the history of boys to drink deep at the well of “Lad: A Dog” and “His Dog.” Meanwhile, real dogs terrified me. This lasted a while. Even after we got a dog, other people’s dogs terrified me. I was 33clear to me. As in the case of my character, dogs are a problem I can’t solve; they throw me back into the question of self and other. For a writer, that’s good. Writing a story about a cat would be like writing a story about my arm or my ear.

—- Interview with Jonathan Lethem in The New Yorker

The Wyly Theater.

The Flat Plane Of the Temporal Experience

“If your reduce sculpture to the flat plane of the temporal experience of the work. (…) the experience of the work is inseparable from the place in which the work resides. Apart from that condition, any experience of the work is a deception.”
― Richard Serra

Hall Texas Sculpture Walk with the Wyly Theater, Dallas Arts District

Mosaic – Sonia King – VisionShift

HALL Texas Sculpture Walk

Wyly Theater

 

Perched Upon A Bust Of Pallas

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
—-Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Arts District,
Dallas, Texas

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
—-Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

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 Show premiered 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.

I’ve always said that live is the way to see it.

So a while back I was excited to see that the Dallas Theater Center was doing a production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Wyly – and we bought tickets for tonight.

Wow, what a lot of fun!

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

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.

Watchmen of the World’s Edge

What have the watchmen of the world’s edge come tonight to look for? Deepening on now, monumental beings stoical, on toward slag, toward ash the colour the night will stabilize at, tonight… what is there grandiose enough to witness?
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Wyly Theater and rebar from the demolition of a parking garage
Dallas Arts District
Dallas, Texas

Construction and Destruction

Construction and Destruction

Year of the Rooster

Year of the Rooster Dallas Theater Center Upstart Productions

Year of the Rooster
Dallas Theater Center
Upstart Productions

I’ve been a fan of the Dallas Theater Center’s Wyly Theater ever since it first opened. I’ve seen a double handful of plays there, and enjoyed every one.

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

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.

There are a few performances left – so if you are in the North Texas area, get your tickets before they are sold out.

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.

What I learned this week, August 01, 2014

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

Finally! Small, Local Theater Companies to Perform in the Dallas Arts District


Outlook grim for orbiting Russian zero-G sex geckos

Gecko in a Watering Can

Gecko in a Watering Can

Thank God – The world is saved!!!

All systems “go” as control restored to beleaguered sex gecko satellite


Amanda Popken on the Dallas Cycle Style Seersucker Ride

Amanda Popken on the Dallas Cycle Style Seersucker Ride

These 53 Colorized Photos From The Past Will Blow You Away.


Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

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.


This Ultra-Foldable Commuter Bike Is Also Ultra-Spendy

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)

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.

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.

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.

My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.


10 Quotes from Tarantino-directed Films


Dallas Leaders Walked Arm-in-Arm with John Wiley Price in the Betrayal of Southern Dallas | Dallas Observer


Eggs Florentine at Smoke

Eggs Florentine at Smoke

The porch and entrance at Smoke

The porch and entrance at Smoke

A really useful list of local restaurants… tied to a map. Of course, there are plenty worthwhile that aren’t on here, but I’ve been to about half of them and they are all deserving.

The 38 Essential Dallas Restaurants, July 2014

Jimmy's Italian

Jimmy’s Italian

Meat Case - Italian Sausage and more

Meat Case at Jimmy’s – Italian Sausage and more

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House

The odd fire pit outside at Babe's Chicken Dinner House in Carrollton, Texas.

The odd fire pit outside at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Carrollton, Texas.


Magnolia Hotel (Pegasus) and Joule Hotel (pool) Dallas, Texas

Magnolia Hotel (Pegasus) and Joule Hotel (pool)
Dallas, Texas

The coolest coffee place in Dallas that you have never heard of.


My secretary setup

One place where the magic happens

Clutter is Killing Your Creativity

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

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.

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.

Black Swallows the Red

“There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend: One day, the black will swallow the red.” – John Logan, from Red

Red

It was time for another “Pay What You Can” night at Dallas Theater Center’s Wyly theater. I have seen King Lear and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at rock-bottom prices and now watch the web site for any new opportunities.

This go-round is the Tony Award winning play Red, by John Logan. It’s a two man play based on the artist Mark Rothko, set in Rothko’s studio in 1958, during the time he is working on a group of large murals for the new Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. Rothko and his fictional assistant, Ken, work and talk about art and life. The overarching conflict between the two is the very acceptance of the commission to decorate the walls of a restaurant frequented by the wealthiest people in the world. Rothko insists it is a subversive act, that he wants to paint, “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.” Ken counters that Rothko simply wants to feed his ego with the money and fame the prestigious commission offers.

At any rate, I was going alone, and went to catch the train downtown. Since I left from work, I felt underdressed – but that was fine; the crowd for “Pay What You Can” night was motley and wearing all sorts of styles at various levels.

I was interested in the staging of Red. King Lear is still running at the Wyly in the main stage above the lobby (the Wyly is revolutionary in its stacked structure – the lobby is at the bottom, the stage area above, with the support spaces higher up). For Red, they converted the rehearsal hall on the ninth floor into an artist’s studio.

While the patrons attending Lear were entering on the right side of the Lobby, we were divided into groups and sent up elevators to the ninth floor. The tickets had no seat assignments, so the crowd wandered around the edges of the studio, finding chairs lined against the wall on low risers. After I settled in, I noticed the actor playing Rothko silently sitting in a comfortable chair in the center of the room, staring and contemplating one of his in-progress color fields. Finally, the last patron came in looking around, looking lost – I noted his clothing was curiously dated… like something out of the fifties. Suddenly I realized that this was the actor playing the assistant, he spoke to Rothko, and the play began.

The play was simple – only two characters, one set, no intermission. Very intimate – you are there in the studio with the two characters. It was more intellectual than passionate – the only real moments of raw emotion was generated by Ken talking about the death of his parents… and that felt a bit forced. Still, it was enjoyable – the character of Rothko is a grand pompous bully – and a brilliant one. Ken was more of a blank canvass where Rothko would paint with his powerful personality and stubborn ideas, but Ken’s point of view somehow kept winning out in the end.

One highlight was a long, wordless passage where Rothko and Ken together slather the dark crimson undertone on a giant canvas, both working hard, slinging heavy brushfulls of paint in different sections of the wall-sized work, their breathing hard and passionate in the small space. To Rothko his paintings are living things… and he feels responsible for and concerned about their ultimate fate.

There is a lot of talk of the art of the time. It was fascinating how Rothko boasted of how he and the abstract expressionists dethroned Picasso and Matisse (“Nobody even thinks of painting cubism anymore, it’s dead”) and how Ken feels that Pop Art is now overthrowing Rothko.

Ken namedrops Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein – and Rothko asks, “Lichtenstein, who’s that?”

I was happy when, in my mind I thought, “Comic Books,” and then Ken says, “Comic Books.”

There is a lot of namedropping here, and it helps to know a thing or two about a thing or two – but not so much that it gets in the way of the entertainment.

After the play we rode the elevators back down to the lobby. It was full of patrons from King Lear, which was in intermission. They were all very nattily dressed, formal, seeing and being seen in that Dallas way while we cheapskates skittered away at the edges.

Outside, the glittering canyons of the city were shining at night while torn scraps of low cloud skimmed by overhead, illuminated by the lights below. It was beautiful and a bit of a shock – while the play was going on it was easy to think you were really in a dingy art studio and forget that you were really nine stories in the air in a huge aluminum cube-theater-machine.

Down Flora Street, between the hulking rows of the Arts District public edifices stood the Dallas Museum of Art. Inside, I knew, there was a Rothko painting. I’ve seen it before – but now I want to go back and stare at it for a while, watch it pulse, see it live, think about what the artist was thinking in that dark place where it was painted.

Mark Rothko, Orange, Red and Red, Dallas Museum of Art

Mark Rothko, Orange, Red and Red, Dallas Museum of Art