Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Great FIT: 'Great Dictator', 'Caveman' and More Meet at Bath House Cultural Center

By Nancy Churnin, Theater Critic | DallasNews.com | July 24, 2017 

A dictator, a caveman, a fiddler and an adolescent waiting for someone to pick him up from a juvenile detention center. You never know what you're going to get at the Festival of Independent Theatres, but this year, more than any year in recent memory, it's worth a festival pass to find out. 

For 19 years, eight independent Dallas theater companies, often new organizations developing new work, get the opportunity to alternate shows that clock in at less than an hour apiece in the black box space in Bath House Cultural Center adjacent to White Rock Lake. 

The first four shows, already reviewed, are compelling, with a fresh breakout that merits wider exposure: Sherry Joy Ward's one-woman show, Stiff, about the actress's real-life struggle with Stiff Person Syndrome, a progressive neurological disorder. The final four are riveting, too, with Jaymes Gregory's original adaptation of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film, The Great Dictator, from Audacity Theatre Lab, and three original plays: Jeff Swearingen's The Caveman Play from The Basement; Dustin Curry's Fiddler's Cave from Dustin Curry & Co.; and Van Quattro's Tommy Cain from L.I.P. Service Productions. 

Chad Cline, Leslie Patrick, Steph Garrett and Robert Shores perform a scene from The Great Dictatorduring the Festival of Independent Theatres at Bath House Cultrual Center in Dallas. (Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor).

The Great Dictator, set at the start of Nazi Germany, and The Caveman Play, which takes place in prehistoric times, offer a fascinating pairing as each takes a comic sideways approach to incisive political commentary. In The Great Dictator, Steph Garrett, a diminutive, rubbery-limbed clown, takes on the Chaplin double role of a Jewish barber in the ghetto and the ruthless dictator, Adenoid Hynkel, modeled on Adolf Hitler, that looks like his double.

A nimble cast swiftly segues from tyrants to the oppressed, a collision of mistaken identity serves as a reminder that all the differences that supposedly exist between groups don't add up to much at all. The story has bite as it mocks both the egotism of the narcissistic dictator and those who enable him through obsequiousness or fear. What surprises is its heart. When the shy barber finally gets a chance to speak to a crowd, he digs deep for that all too rare conviction — idealism — as he urges people to "free the world ... to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance" in a speech that Garrett delivers with passionate vulnerability. 

It's the perfect complement for The Caveman Play, a story about one caveman, Ugh (Chris Rodenbaugh), who runs into trouble when he challenges the authority of a savage leader, Scrock (Doak Rapp, who also directs), and tries to show members of a resistant tribe that their lives can be peaceful, prosperous and fair. The clever script by Swearingen (who also plays one of the comically craven cavemen) is well-served by this smart new company, which is founded and run by young adults who received their training at Fun House Theatre and Film youth company. 

Fiddler's Cave and Tommy Cain show how different one-man shows can be. Dustin Curry's wordless Fiddler's Cave offers a highly theatrical mix of magic, music and film, with Curry's live on-stage fiddler interacting with a film clip of the woman he loves. The show, directed by B.J. Cleveland, is inspired by Ozark Mountain folklore and uses techniques that are as haunting as the story. 

Zach Leyva's raw, open performance in Quattro's blistering Tommy Cain takes you inside the head of a troubled teen in a way that makes you stop, think and ache for him and for all the kids who have been abused and abandoned by those they look to for protection. The structure, like the setting, is simple and stripped to its essence. Tommy tells us his story as he waits to be picked up by his aunt after he's served his time in a juvenile detention center. As time passes, he gets increasingly anxious that she won't show up — and so do we. 

In four words: Don't miss the FIT. 
Original article... HERE

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