Archive | May, 2009


28 May

Wortham Theater, University of Houston

Artistic director Viswa Subbaraman remembers the first time he saw proof that his contemporary, mildly “American Idol” approach to an opera competition was a success. It was 2007, and the audience was asking really serious questions of composer-finalist David T. Little about his opera “Soldier Songs.”

“There was a great moment when the audience made a connection with ‘Soldier Songs’ and compared it to the film ‘Full Metal Jacket,’” Subbaraman recalls. “David T. Little thought for a moment and realized that the first time he had seen Full Metal Jacket was about two weeks before he began composing the opera. It was a moment where both the composer and the audience began to truly understand the experience of watching opera.”

Little’s work, a winner in 2007, is one of two operas being given full stagings this year in an expanded edition of the Opera Vista Festival, now a partnership between Subbaraman’s company of that name and the ever-creative theater troupe called the Nova Arts Project, under the direction of Clinton Hopper. In the spirit of any great collaboration, the two bring different skill sets to the festival: the opera company its mastery of playing and singing, the theater company its flair for making magic on stage.

“Soldier Songs” is described as an evening-length multi-media solo cantata that explores the soldier in terms of perception versus reality. The work features newly discovered aerial film of the Vietnam War, plus still photos from Vietnam and Iraq, plus recorded interviews with veterans of five wars. A chilling view of the nature of power during wartime, Soldier Songs asks some tough questions – and seeks to tell us some stories we may not want to hear.

Also fully staged this year is Little’s co-winner in 2007, “Edalat Square” by R. Timothy Brady. Political views and music are nothing new to Brady, having as a music student composed a score for Tim Robbins stage production-in-progress of “Dead Man Walking” – which Robbins, of course, also made into an award-winning film starring his wife Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. “Edalat” tells the true story of two young men in Iran who were hanged for homosexuality in 2005. In the opera, the soul of the square where the executions took place emerges from the poetic essence of Sufi mystics.

For more information on the opera company, check out For more on its partner in the festival, go to


THE THIRD SIDE – A Review by Nancy Wozny

28 May

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company
What if Darwin was wrong? Not as in evolution being a shaky theory, but just a part of the puzzle? That was precisely the premise of Tom Vaughan’s new play, The Third Side, produced by Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company in Houston.

When biology professor Henry Darden goes public with his theory that Darwin got one part of his thesis wrong, he draws the attention of the Intelligent Design people, the wrath of his college-aged daughter Jessie, and the suspicion of his peers at Wheeler College. Darden is already in a bit of a life crisis with a marriage and kid-minded live-in girlfriend Christine, a high school son wanting to blow off the last few days of school, a defiant daughter, and a quickly crumbling career.

Vaughan, who also directed the play, honed his skills in Los Angeles, and has a particularly sharp ear for dialogue, making the cast of characters an entertaining lot. People in academia are rarely this witty, especially those with tenure on the line. Darden’s thesis is flatly rejected without the benefit of closer examination—so it goes in the rigid and highly reactive world of higher education. Vaughan piques our interest in how the science problem is going to play out, then leaves us hanging, shifting the focus from matters of science to matters of the heart. It would have been fun to watch Darden mix with the Intelligent Design pseudo-science crowd. Regardless of whether or not we get to the bottom of the issues, Vaughan keeps us wanting to know more about this collection of characters. A little more science would have been fun, though.

Mark Carrier headed up the cast as Darden, the fearless renegade who is more than happy to take grant money from the Intelligent Design folks. Carrier imbued his performance with a professorial laid-back style and a quiet charisma. We cheered for him as we watched his career fall into ruins. Chase Mozingo was completely believable as the senioritis-suffering high school kid. The rest of the cast, still a bit tentative and awkward, had yet to inhabit their roles. Kelly Robertson’s sleek off-white, curved set conjured the coolness of academia but was at odds with the breezy nature of Vaughan’s tone. – Nancy Wozny


28 May

I hope you’ll join me for the first-ever edition of Houston ArtsWeek, Sunday 4-5 p.m. on NewsRadio 740 KTRH. We have a terrific lineup!

Matthew Dirst, artistic director of Ars Lyrica, joins us from a recent “house concert,” which might be a rare chance to hear Baroque chamber music actually performed in a chamber. Matthew talks about the ensembles new CD and plans for an exciting new Ars Lyrica season.

We sit down with Rebekah Dahl and Luther Chakurian, who star as Eva Peron and Che Guevara (sort of) in Masquerade Theatre’s current production of “Evita” in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center. In particular, we want to know how Rebekah makes us care about a political leader who had a lot not to like.

Cissy Segal Davis joins us to talk about Miller Outdoor Theatre, which remains a Houston summertime treasure despite its effort to extend the season deep into spring and fall – when the weather is mostly nicer anyway. How many other cities can most boast this much entertainment absolutely free. Uh, none.


28 May

Here it is… the blog outreach of a media adventure aimed at giving the performing, visual and literary arts in Houston TX their due. Or at least as close to their due as we can manage. This is the interactive side of a free weekly email newsletter and a weekly radio show on 740 KTRH. The blog technology means we can talk to you faster than in any other format, and we can hear back from you faster too. We look forward to all your thoughts, your experiences, your ideas – all gathered around the general notion of the Houston arts scene. And in our little slice of the universe, anything that acts like art, feels like art or pretends to be art is fair game. Otherwise, we’d have to rely on the art police to decide. And we don’t think much of the art police.

I, John DeMers, publisher of the email magazine and host of the radio show, will attempt to lead the discussion. But I won’t mind if and when it gets away from me. Few things on this earth are more about free expression of the individual condition than art. We wouldn’t want to write about art in a way that is non-artistic or even anti-artistic, now would we?

Feel free, if you seek a slightly more formal statement of who we are and what we’re about, to check out the website You can even sign up there for your free weekly subscription. Still, a lot of our reviews will run first on this blog, and we want your comments about what we see, what we should see, and occasionally maybe how we’re not seeing the forest for the trees. I love forests, but I’m mighty fond of trees as well.

So let me hear from you via this blog, or by snail mail, or by carrier pigeon. Looking back through history, we see so clearly that the urge to communicate, to connect with others, has always been there. It’s somewhere buried in the beginnings of each song, each painting, each creation that is or aspires to be art. We want this blog, and all it represents, to belong to every single one of you. You can sign the ownership papers right here, right now. Got a pen?

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28 May

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