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Theater review: Festival of Independent Theatres, weekend two

Festival of Independent Theatres

Through Aug. 2

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive, Dallas

Tickets per two-show performance block are $18; or $60-$70 for a festival pass

800-617-6904; www.fest i valofindependenttheatres.org


Posted 11:41am on Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2014

The second batch of shows in Dallas’ Festival of Independent Theatres has opened, and now it’s fair to say that the 16th annual FIT is one of the weaker ones in memory. Not to say there isn’t great work, but there are fewer must-sees than in the past.

Actually, the festival’s two best shows opened in this second set: Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve, adapted by Susan Sargeant for her WingSpan Theatre Company, and the original work Sleepwalker Man Walk Through Wall, presented by Sibling Revelry.

Sargeant edited Twain’s stories in which he comically “translated” what the biblical first humans would have chronicled from the first several decades after Creation. She also directed the production, featuring Catherine DuBord and Austin Tindle. DuBord is fantastic as the first woman, always questioning and getting the jobs done that Adam is taking too much time on (such as naming the animals); and Tindle is appropriately annoyed and curious.

Sargeant retains Twain’s wit in her stage version, and the actors have a believable push/pull chemistry, plus spot-on timing. WingSpan’s shows have often been a FIT highlight (and it’s the only group to have performed in every one), and this is one of their best.

The surprise is Sleepwalker Man, a devised movement and text piece written and directed by John Leos. The engaging ensemble of young performers — Kia Boyer, Johnny Gonzalez, DJ Grigsby, Melissa Riggins and Jessaica Shields — appear in various stages of sleep and waking, although the audience is never quite sure which is which — and that’s the point.

Leos nicely overlaps the scenes, and intersperses it with pieces of dance and choreographed movement, and the actors keep a somnambulistic feel to the proceedings. Some of the scenes feature poetic passages, some are played for comedy and others are nightmarish. The most memorable is a recurring character of an insomniac (Grigsby, in a terrifically funny performance) obsessed with numbers and The Little Engine That Could. This work is probably still in development, but as a piece of devised theater, what’s there is cohesive and dreamy.

A show that has doesn’t quite deliver on its intriguing promise is local playwright Ben Schroth’s Our Breakfast, which attempts Beckett-like dialogue in a diner. Erin Singleton plays the Waitress, who has her own problems, not the least of which are customers Jean (Marty Van Kleeck) and Sybil (Mary Lang).

These two probably come in all the time, and never have a coherent conversation because they can’t remember what menu items they like, what they usually order, or what they’re supposed to be talking about to each other. It sounds important, but we’ll never know. Schroth’s dialogue is funny, but at the opening performance, Van Kleeck and Lang lagged on timing that has to be fast and precise, and should sound as if it’s never been said before — even though it probably has. It was messy.

But not nearly as messy as the new work from Cliff McClelland, whose outfit McClarey Players has given FIT two of the worst shows the festival has ever seen. The first was 2010’s Purgatory: a Bedroom Farce. And now, Food for Thought.

It plays out in three scenes, featuring a hodgepodge of historical characters in scenes where food is at the center of the story. There has to be something funny to be mined from a conversation between Charles Darwin (Beauen Bogner) and a marine iguana named Carmen (Didi Archilla), but it’s not found here. The other two scenes — one with Marie Antoinette (Chloe Clark-Soles) and a futuristic woman named Rosalie (Kane); the other involving Friedrich Nietzsche (Erik Archilla), Richard Wagner (Tobyas Meeks), Salome (Kane) and Helga (Clark-Soles) and waffles — make even less sense.

Avoid Food for Thought; and if you can only catch a block or two in the Festival of Independent Theatres, your best bet is to catch a pairing of the shows from WingSpan Theatre Company, Sibling Revelry, Echo Theatre or Churchmouse Productions.

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