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ALL THE FORT’S A STAGE 

By Ken Shimamoto 

Caught Jubilee Theatre’s production of Romulus Linney’s A Lesson Before Dying last weekend – first time I’d been out to the tradition-rich downtown theater this season. There were a lot of new faces in the cast, three of whom were making their Jubilee debuts with this production, but the most significant name on the playbill was the director: Jubilee artistic director Ed Smith.  

The cast didn’t disappoint; of particular note, Christopher Piper’s understated performance as the doomed Jefferson was highly effective and affecting, using his physical presence and facial expressions to depict the character’s inner struggle and ultimate triumph. Imaginative staging transformed Jubilee’s intimate space into four discreet environments – one side of the stage alternately serving as a schoolroom and a nightclub, while the other side did double duty as a storeroom in the parish courthouse and a bench in front of it. Historically, Jubliee’s been known for its strong ensemble and the ebullient musicals that its revered founder, the late Rudy Eastman, created with music director Joe Rogers. With more productions like Smith’s realization of A Lesson Before Dying, powerful drama could also become a Jubilee calling card. 

Fort Worth’s long been a theater town, from the mainstream (Casa Manana’s marquee stars and family-friendly productions -- their Chicago runs through March 2nd at the Bass Hall – and Jubilee’s across-Sundance-Square “neighbor” Circle Theatre) to the experimental (the thought-provoking presentations of Amphibian Stage Productions and the Butterfly Connection).  

Founded in 2000 by a trio of TCU theatre department alumni, Amphibian’s done readings and stage productions in Fort Worth and Noo Yawk City, most recently with an ongoing series of readings at the Fort’s Modern Art Museum. The next one, Aaron Loeb’s First Person Shooter, depicting the trials ‘n’ tribs of the technogeeks at a startup video game company when one of their products is blamed for a school shooting, takes place on April 6-7.  

The peripatetic Butterfly Connection is the brainchild of local boy Adam Justin Dietrich, who learned his craft at Tarrant County College and as an apprentice at the Fort’s venerable grassroots ensemble Hip Pocket Theatre (a west side institution birthed by TCU alums Diane and Johnny Simons back in the Bicentennial year). Dietrich started the Butterfly Connection to bring live theater for free to the general public around the Metromess. He’s also made significant outreach efforts with underprivileged children and illiterate adults, as well as hospitalized kids and AP students.  

Last year, TBC’s productions included local dramatist Rob Bosquez’s My Brother and Sister With Wings. Bosquez, a south side native, cites filmmakers David Lynch and Akira Kurosawa as influences, but his work also has some of the “magical realism” of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He’s had original works produced at the Rose Marine Theater’s Teatro de la Rosa, and in 2006, he directed local theater mainstay and Stage West managing director Jerry Russell in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman for Fort Worth Theatre. (If you haven’t figured this out already, the Fort’s theater scene is as incestuous as its music scene.) Bosquez has a couple of new works in progress, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with. 

Under the leadership of executive director Cathy Hernandez and artistic director Yvonne Duque, Teatro de la Rosa has conducted workshops and mounted productions (including numerous original works) since 2003, receiving recognition from the White House  (the 2006 “Coming Up Taller” award) and the Kennedy Center (through participation in the Center’s Capacity Building Program for ethnic-specific organizations). Their next show, Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz’s Anna In the Tropics, runs February 22-March 9.  

Helmed by Russell and artistic director Jim Covault since 1979, Stage West took up new digs last fall at 821 Vickery. Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House runs there through February 24, then G.B. Shaw’s Major Barbara opens there March 13 and runs through April 13. Stage West shares the Allied Theatre Group umbrella with the currently dormant Fort Worth Shakespeare Festival. That this town couldn’t/wouldn’t come out to dig the Bard of Avon’s works in a lovely Trinity Park setting (lotsa fun memories of kids sliding down the hill on sheets of corrugated cardboard and running concession stands with my high school-aged daughter so we could see the plays for free) is beyond me. 

Led by executive director/Texas Wesleyan grad Scott Hardgrove, Fort Worth Theatre – this town’s oldest community theater – is also kinda my neighborhood theater, holding forth as they do in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center at 1300 Gendy, amid all the museums. Hardgrove directs Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful there from March 14-22. 

Not everyone will agree with this, but the way I feel about live theater (as opposed to film or TV) is kind of like the way I feel about live music (as opposed to listening to rekkids). It goes beyond mere “suspension of disbelief”: Part of what’s exciting is the potential for something to go catastrophically wrong. But when it doesn’t, you’ll discover your ability to be moved beyond comprehension by live performing humans. And that, friends, is something I consider magical. 

Web resources: 

Jubilee Theatre: www.jubileetheatre.org

Casa Manana: www.casamanana.org

Circle Theater: www.circletheatre.com

Amphibian Stage Productions: www.amphibianproductions.org

The Butterfly Connection: www.thebutterflyconnection.org

Hip Pocket Theatre: www.hippocket.org

Fort Worth Theatre: www.fortworththeatre.com

Rose Marine Theater: www.rosemarinetheater.com

Stage West: www.stagewest.org

 

Bass Hall