Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Exhibitionism

DECEMBER 15, 1997: 

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY: KINDLING OUR SENSE OF BEAUTY AND GOODNESS

So much of Christmas lies in journeys - Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, the Magi following a star from the East, Santa flying across the face of the globe, the Grinch skulking into Whoville. This holiday makes us leave where we are to find it in its fullness, all its warmth and wonder and love. Sometimes, as with Scrooge, the journey is into the past, to a time when another's open hand and open heart made real the Christmas spirit and passed it on to us as a wondrous gift.

That's the journey Truman Capote makes in this tender remembrance. He returns to his seventh year and the last Christmas he spent with his cousin Sook, a woman who, though six decades his elder, was his spiritual twin. Their shared love of simple things - strangers' smiles and soaring kites and God's creation - bound them to each other. Capote evokes their bond in richly detailed descriptions of their great adventures that Yuletide: baking fruitcakes, sharing whiskey, sending kites into a Christmas sky. Through his words we catch a cinnamon whiff of their profound connection and the soul of the season that lived in Sook.

This production honors Capote's words in all their fullness. Text in hand, Scotty Roberts reads the tale aloud, taking care to give the author's evocations of time, place, character, their due. He takes on the identity of the narrator with joy, his broad, genial face lit by that inner candle of memory, letting it soften his features to let the boy in him shine through.

Roberts' partner is Jill Parker-Jones, who puts on Sook with the easy grace of one sliding into a worn, much loved sweater. She gives the character a girl's heart and manner - sometimes shyly ducking her head, hanging tentatively behind Roberts, other times eagerly thrusting herself into the story, other times brushing against the wonder of the world and marveling at it. Hers is an openness to life that kindles our sense of beauty, of goodness, and watching her we grow warmer inside.

This is the fifth year Roberts and Parker-Jones - and guitarist Mark Viator, whose music threads wistfulness in and around the action - have presented this work. It deserves to be regarded as a treasure of the season, a gem that grows in value with each year, a journey in which we discover more beauty with every step.

- Robert Faires



JOE YORK'S HOLIDAY CABARET: THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY

Call it the Year of the York. On the Zachary Scott Theatre Center's Kleberg Stage, 1997 began with the talented actor in the spotlight, and it's ending with him there, too. Oh, it's a different Joe York, to be sure. Gone are the tarantula-leg eyelashes and op art fashions and the Diva of Death shtick that made his turn as Sylvia St. Croix a milestone of the theatre year. This is the man behind the make-up: the lover of sentimental songs, the neighbor with the sly sense of humor, the guy. With some artists, the stripping away of artifice to expose their true self onstage would be a harsh lesson in how much they depend upon the masquerade to engage an audience. With York, it's another measure of his versatility as a performer - and a reminder of what it is to be in the pleasure of his company.

In this solo program, York escorts us into the inner chambers of his heart, performing songs which are dear to him, not a few of which are soulful or sweet, odes that throb with romance or tingle with the excitement of a dream. But while the choice of selections is unbashedly sentimental, York's delivery rarely flirts with cloying emotion. As is apt given his physique, York's approach is frequently muscular, filling out the songs with his broad, rounded voice, imbuing them with a sense of deeper feeling. His "Anyone Can Whistle" is a forceful confession of vulnerability from a Superman; his "Rainbow Connection" - yes, the Muppet song - an anthem for dreamers. The songs lose none of their softness, but they gain the strength to stir.

York doesn't depend just on muscle to blunt the show's sweetness. He uses humor, too, and if there's a trace of the January Joe in this month's model, it's in his wit. He cracks wise about his own lack of interest in Yuletide tunes and a fondness for the occasional sofa-lounging, wine-swilling, open-weeping pity party. And he periodically explodes the heartfelt mood he's set with a wry anti-romance tune. This may be the first holiday cabaret ever to deck the halls with Tom Lehrer's "Masochism Tango."

In this winning blend of wit and heart and melody, Joe York has given Austin a full cup of Christmas cheer. It's a tonic for the season and a worthy bookend to what will surely be for some local theatre fans their favorite year. - Robert Faires



RADIO SCROOGE: A GREAT SHOW TO WATCH WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED

I have an aversion to Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It started when my father was Fezziwig in a production at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and yours truly got roped into running lights. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I must have seen the silly thing 40 times, enough to destroy any spark of enjoyment in even the most die-hard Dickens fan. I scrupulously avoid any holiday special based on the plot. I refuse to sit through any movie like Bill Murray's Scrooged. Just can't do it.

So how in the hell did I find myself going to Radio Scrooge, a play that any remotely conscious person would have realized was based on the aforementioned novel? It's hard to believe, but I didn't make the connection until my date for the evening, who knows my general avoidance of any script with three Christmas ghosts, asked if I was feeling okay. Then like a big, fat Christmas goose, it hit me and I steeled myself for a few hours in a personal hell. You can see why I was amazed when I left Hyde Park Theatre with an itch to run to the nearest bookstore to buy a copy of this ubiquitous holiday classic.

It's not that this production by The Company and ONSTAGE Productions is full of big special effects or does something revolutionary with the concept. In fact, quite the opposite. Radio Scrooge is charming in its simplicity. The show takes place in a 1940s radio studio, with the actors reading, pages in hand, the story into three microphones. Shenanigans occur during the performance and are a nice touch, but they are in no way related to the plot of the show. There is no second storyline, no concept of the relationships between the actors, and that's just fine.

I repeatedly forget just how good Dickens actually was, but productions like this one and last summer's Tale of Two Cities, keep reminding me. J. Damian Gillen's adaptation retains all the flavor of the text without bogging the show down with useless information. All the actors have rich voices and use them with skill and panache. Craig Kanne's comic bits of business with his plethora of characters contrasts well with Travis Dean's staid narrator. Michael Stuart's sound effects, produced onstage by a variety of implements, work well with the radio play theme.

In fact, this is a great show to watch with your eyes closed, not a recommendation that I've ever made despite the fact that I have occasionally been tempted to. Granted, it is fun to watch the sight gags that have been worked into the script, but they are simply icing on an already tasty cake.

I suppose this would be the perfect time to admit that my dislike for this story was, in a word, misguided. But I just can't. You try watching the same show every night, twice a day on weekends, for five weeks without wanting to smash Tiny Tim with his own tiny crutch. Radio Scrooge, however, is the perfect reminder of why this book became a classic cautionary tale with warm, fuzzy heart wrapped in holly and ribbons.

- Adrienne Martini


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