Archive | June, 2015

Beatles Exhibit at the LBJ

22 Jun

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By JOHN DeMERS

If you’re heading to Austin between now and the new year, you might check in with arguably history’s most impactful Texan to learn more about history’s most impactful rock band. The usual fascinations of the LBJ Presidential Library form an intriguing backdrop to a traveling exhibit called Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles! After all, the most critical developments of Beatlemania took place while the gruff, profane, manipulative and unexpectedly idealistic Lyndon Baines Johnson was remaking parts of America as its president.

Put together by no less than the GRAMMY Museum, and therefore reverential to the band’s then-unprecedented success selling records, the exhibit pulls together some 400 artifacts large and small, from iconic films and photographs down to silly products coughed up to bank on the Beatles’ surely-shortlived day in the sun. The fact that the sun stayed out for years (and, for many, still shines) is a testament not only to the charisma that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr brought to their stardom but to the revolutionary nature of their music itself. The exhibit stops short of being geeky about that; there’s no mention of new chord progressions, new instruments, new harmonies or, in more than an occasional gloss, new recording techniques that defined later albums like Rubber Soul and especially Sgt. Pepper. Still, the accompanying text makes clear that The Beatles were something more than four P.T. Barnums with Liverpool accents.

Ultimately, the music lives on because of itself. From the simplest moon-June love rhymes of teenagers to angst-ridden and mature meditations on politics, war, protest and peace, the Beatles were the ’60s before the ’60s even knew what they were. As such they both chronicled and created one of American history’s most debated yet also most fascinating eras.

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Stark Naked’s ‘Stage Kiss’

1 Jun

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By JOHN DeMERS

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, currently performed by Houston’s Stark Naked Theatre Company as a regional premiere, is a play about kissing on stage. But then again, we have it on the Bard’s authority that all the world’s a stage, don’t we?

This romantic comedy – which it is, though grittier and more insightful than that genre tends to be at the movies – asks questions right and left about what it means when we kiss someone. Onstage, of course, a kiss is technical, delivered without meaning deeper than the scene, often choreographed by a third party. It is, after all, mostly or even all about the paycheck. What happens, though, when the male and female actors giving that stage kiss had been wildly, youthfully in love many years before? And what happens when such passions reignite, despite dramatically different circumstances, one of them happily-enough married with a teenaged daughter?

Make no mistake: Stage Kiss delivers a ton of laughs, with its clever dialogue, its wry observations about the types of modern love, its sometimes-slapstick physicality and, most of all, its not-one-but-two (or three?) plays-within-plays. Both official set-pieces have themes that echo Ruhls’s main ideas, as they should: one a formal drawing-room melodrama from the 1930s, the other an allegedly realistic Lower Manhattan tale of a Northern Irish terrorist and a Brooklyn hooker. Both abound in ridiculous situations and over-the-top flights of dialogue, and both tend to support another of Shakespeare’s contentions: What fools these mortals be.

As directed by Brandon Weinbrenner, Luis Galindo and Stark Naked co-founder Kim Tobin-Lehl play the long-ago lovers, who initially have more trouble kissing onstage than strangers would but eventually, well, far less trouble. Galindo manages to be one of those intense physical forces, the kind it’s convincing that a woman would not forget even when she knows she’d been right to pack up. Tobin-Lehl carries the weight of the show’s changes and epiphanies. After all, she’s the one with the marriage and child to lose, she’s the one who’s been haunted by memories, and she is (for sure) the only one of the two capable of making a nuanced, grownup decision for a future in which the past makes you smile instead of cry.

Josh Morrison is excellent as a couple  versions of the staid but oh-so-stable husband (an archetype for women, to be sure), and Jennifer Laporte is dead-on hilarious as the couple’s teenaged daughter with wisdom beyond her years. Finding her mother in a down-and-out NYC hovel with an actor-lover from her youth, she glances back and forth between them and simply scowls, “You people are assholes.” In many ways, that could be this play’s second title, except delivered by playwright Ruhl with sympathy and some affection.

Molly Searcy, Philip Hays and Stark Naked co-founder Philip Lehl fill out the cast with enthusiasm, Lehl in particular having fun flitting about the stage as The Director. His lines are a virtual lexicon of not-very-helpful directing clichés. In a kind of inside-baseball play-within-another-play, the Stark Naked actors are clearly taking delight in skewering those as long as they’re in the neighborhood.

Photo by Gabriella Nissen