DALLAS Theres always variety in Dallas Festival of Independent Theatres, and of the four shows that opened in the first weekend at the Bath House Cultural Center, that statement remains true. Four more will open this coming weekend, and all shows run in a repertory schedule through Aug. 2.
Of the first bunch, Churchmouse Productions comes away with the winner, The Watch by Trace Crawford. Directed by Jordan Willis, it has the suited-up Paley (Chad Cline) and street-clothes-dressed Dawkins (Jared Culpepper) in a hotel room, watching something out the window, but were never sure what. They may not even know.
The dialogue is inspired by absurdist masters like Beckett and Pinter, as they play with semantics, engage in one-upmanship games and bandy words and rhetoric like a racquetball. Are they on a stakeout? Is one a cop and the other a criminal? Why are there hand tools (saw, mallet, hand drill) on the bed?
We probably wont know, but the clockwork verbal dexterity of Cline and Culpepper keeps it entertaining as the word-weight shifts back and forth. It ends with an existential crisis that turns everything on its head, more dire than Paleys constant buttoning and unbuttoning of his suit jacket.
Echo Theatre also comes out strong with mania/gift, a play by local writer Shelby-Allison Hibbs that explores bipolar disorder in a writer, portrayed by Cara L. Reid, with Whitney Holotik playing multiple roles, including the voices in the writers head.
Hibbs, who also directs, has obviously done her research on the disorder, and the time-jumping structure of the play is promising, thanks to strong performances by the actresses. The fact that the writer is a fantasy-fiction lover adds a level of metaphor that Hibbs could explore even more. Its an intriguing writing effort that makes us want to see more of this play and this playwright.
Jeffrey Colangelo, the mind behind one of the areas most exciting new theater companies, Prism Co. (not to be confused with Prism Theatrics, currently debuting with Thoroughly Modern Millie in Fort Worth), has revisited his short clown work Playtime, first presented in a 30-minute version in 2013. This time it fills out the hour that FIT allows, and the stretch marks are visible. That gives the work, about a child confronting fears, less of an impact. Directed by Isaac Young, the balloons and pillow fights are fun, but it feels less focused this time around.
The biggest puzzle of this outing is Jim Kuenzers Metamorphosis II, presented by Nouveau 47 Theatre. Kuenzer has one of Dallas theaters funniest and most twisted minds, but this oddball sequel to the Kafka novella comes off more as a sketch comedy bit that runs out of steam.
Directed by Donny Covington, it starts out promisingly, as Kafkas character Gregor Samsa (Ben Bryant, funny with his mustache and Czech accent) has been turned from cockroach back to human, and is thrown into a TV-sitcomlike world where Mr. and Mrs. Samsa (Lulu Ward and John Flores) and a Kardashian-esque Grete (Diana Gonzalez) spout off one-liners, hilariously accompanied by a studio audience laugh track. Theyve inked a reality-show deal, but worry it could fall through now that theres no longer an insect family member. No transmutation equals no transmission.
There are many snort-laugh, insider jokes in that section, but then it devolves into scenes involving board members and an Apple store genius, where, of course, the ultimate answer is provided by Siri.