Sunday, December 1, 2013

Audacity's RASPBERRY FIZZ in

The Laboratory of Life

Audacity Theatre Lab keeps the spirit of experimentation alive at the Margo Jones Theatre, with a double bill of Grading on a Curve and Raspberry Fizz.

published Friday, November 29, 2013

Travis Stuebing and Tashina Richardson in RASPBERRY FIZZ at the Margo Jones Theatre

Dallas — Just in case you’re curious how Audacity Theatre Lab has managed to fly under the radar in DFW for more than a decade, and still make some of the most consistently entertaining shows on a budget for which the term “shoestring” seems fancy, you’re not alone. The group, run by Brad McEntire and his wife Ruth Engel-McEntire, specializes in original work, often one-person shows—or at least with a small cast.

In the past month, it has presented three such shows in the new Margo Jones Theatre space in Fair Park, two of them still running on one bill. A.V. Phibes’ play Grading on a Curve, directed by McEntire and performed by Lauren Moore, begins the show as a 25-minute curtain raiser. That’s followed by McEntire’s play Raspberry Fizz.

One of the first shows presented there after the 2013 State Fair closed was under the Audacity banner, an import from Portland, Ore., Kate Mura’s one-person mask show Suburban Tribe. It was performed twice in early November. Mura, the Artistic Ambassador of Portland’s Fuse Theatre Ensemble, wrote the work as a thank you to a New Jersey community that rallied around a family after a “freak accident.” She’s been performing it on the festival circuit for several years. (McEntire also does that circuit.)

On a table behind her are group of commedia-style masks in dark-brown tones, some of which come with extra costumes or props, such as hats and scarves. She switches masks to change characters, including an elderly Polish woman who’s in line for the Pearly Gates but still has plenty to talk about before she gets there. There’s also a clergyman, people who show up to deliver casseroles after a death and various family members. A few of the characters don’t require masks, and it’s interesting to see how naked and raw those characters feel after you’re used to seeing a parade of masks.

Mura frequently references The Secret Garden and sings a few songs, including “Bride Over Troubled Water” and Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” In 50 minutes, she switches voices and characterizations effortlessly, and offers vivid representations of people who exhibit compassion in a trying time. It gives you hope that people can be like this all the time, not just in the wake of tragedy.

Here’s a snippet of the show from Mura’s YouTube channel, from a performance two years ago. Upcoming dates include Los Angeles and Tacoma, Wash.; and according to the show’s Facebook page, 2014 will take it to festivals in Bali and Australia.

Audacity’s current offering, running on Saturday afternoons through Dec. 7, begins with Grading on a Curve. In the short work, Lauren Moore plays a woman in search for something to make her life have more meaning. She admits her love for gooey, orange nacho cheese, but even that can’t quash her desire to see what happens when she embarks on a hunger strike with another character she considers more interesting than her.

In her quest to not be consumed with ennui, she describes what happens to her body and mind at various points in the strike, all the way up to 170 hours.

The story comes back around to a man she meets who, while not physically perfect, could prove to be the person she needs in her life. Moore is engaging throughout, taking us through the twisty turns of this brief story with vivid imagery. A comical ending plays with the adage “life’s too short.”

Lauren Moore in A. V. Phibes' GRADING ON A CURVE at the Margo Jones Theatre
In 2012, Raspberry Fizz was seen at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. McEntire again plays the carnival barker in 1949 small-town America who promises something amazing under a cardboard box, for anyone who will pay to take a peek. That’s interspersed with scenes between adolescents Samantha (Tashina Richardson) and Ellson (Travis Stuebing). He is clearly intrigued with her, and all she wants is to chew gum, tease and drink a soda called Raspberry Fizz. Ellson, always curious, takes up the Barker’s offer.

It’s short and sweet, with charming performances from Richardson and Stuebing. There’s a message about expectations versus reality, and the viewer can’t help but feel nostalgia for a more innocent time. Not just of childhood, but of a bygone era captured in Norman Rockwell paintings. Even as we know that will never return, there’s a big sigh in watching it represented through art.

The Margo Jones Theatre, which is dedicated to incubating small and/or emerging companies and isn’t averse to experimentation and risk, is the perfect place for such work. Audiences are small, shows are short and rewards are big.

Next up for Audacity is the return of the play The Last Castrato, starring Jeff Swearingen in the title role.

No comments: