Arts & Culture

Playwrights kicking up dust as November nears

Holland Taylor as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards during a performance of "Ann."
Holland Taylor as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards during a performance of "Ann." AP

To paraphrase the great playwright Edward Albee, all theater is political theater.

That’s not only in the way characters strategize and attempt to advance their agendas, but also in how arts patrons make a statement — with their ticket purchases — about supporting something whose financial success can often be the result of local, state and federal policy making.

Of course, there is plenty of theater that is overtly political, with creative theater makers telling stories of government and personal politics. The best current example is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega-hit and mega-publicized Hamilton, about Alexander Hamilton, which is expected to win big at Sunday’s Tony Awards.

In today’s seemingly endless political cycle of the presidential election, it’s hard not to notice that local theaters, and even national touring presenters, are getting into the political conversation with shows that are about politicians and strategists, or involve themes ranging from corporate greed to immigration to race.

The Dallas Theater Center has already gone all-in with politics this year with its productions of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ play All the Way (also a recent HBO movie) and the contemporary look at the immigration debate of Deferred Action.

The Fort Worth Opera jumped in with the world premiere of JFK, and recently, AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series hosted the tour of the 1966 Kander/Ebb musical Cabaret, which has glaring parallels to contemporary politics in America, Europe and around the world.

Some of the upcoming shows are ones you know and love and probably haven’t thought of as political theater, such as The Sound of Music. Others are explicitly addressing the current campaign, as in Citizen Drumpf, an original Donald Trump-skewering work from Grapevine’s Ohlook Performing Arts Center.

Innovative Plano-based youth theater Fun House Theatre and Film is doing a season of shows about Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and others.

And then there’s Shakespeare, who’s always good for timeless political commentary.

We’ve compiled a list of shows on local stages, running through Election Day in November, that fit the theme.

▪ Atwater: Fixin’ to Die: Fort Worth company Drag Strip Courage presents this Robert Myers play about Lee Atwater, a legendary and brilliant campaign manager who worked with Strom Thurmond, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to name a few. In the title role, Seth Johnston gives a bravura performance. Runs through Sunday at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth.

▪ Red, White & True Blue!: Artisan Center Theater in Hurst presents a revue of patriotic songs, running through July 4.

▪ Richard III: Of all the Shakespeare plays being presented this summer, the most political is this dramatization of the malicious and power-hungry Richard III, performed by Shakespeare Dallas in its summer season. It runs in repertory with Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. June 22 to July 23 at Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre in Tenison Park in Dallas.

▪ Season at Fun House Theatre and Film: Fun House is an amazingly creative youth theater based at Plano Children’s Theatre, and its 2016 season is all about politics. Next up is an original work called House of Bard’s (June 16-20), a takeoff on House of Cards that uses Shakespeare’s political speeches. After that is Rush Limbaugh in Night School, which will be at the Festival of Independent Theatres in July; and Fun House returns to PCT in August with repertory runs of Wendy Weiner’s Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy With a (Somewhat) Happy Ending and Jeff Swearingen’s Old McDonald’s Farm, an allegorical fable about the Obama presidency (Aug. 19-27).

▪ Summer season at Ohlook Performing Arts in Grapevine: This musical-loving edgy youth theater in Grapevine has a summer of musicals that are political in different ways: Urinetown the Musical (June 24-July 3) and Hair (July 8-24), plus the late-night performances of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (June 17-July 3), and Green Day’s American Idiot (July 8-30). The late-night series closes with Citizen Drumpf (Aug. 5-14), written by Matthew Lord and Kelley Poche Rodriguez. Lord is a member of the 3 Redneck Tenors, but given his crass sense of humor, expect Citizen Drumpf to take no prisoners on the presumptive Republican nominee.

▪ The Campaign Trail: DVA Productions presents an original musical by Sheran Keyton and Joe Rogers (who created many musicals for Jubilee Theatre with Rudy Eastman). July 29-Aug. 7 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s Sanders Theatre.

▪ The Sound of Music: Yes, we know you don’t think of one of America’s most beloved musicals as being political, but the rise of the Nazis in the background adds to the urgency of the characters’ need to escape Austria. Many of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s major musicals (especially The King and I and South Pacific) deal with racism and politics. The national tour of The Sound of Music runs Aug. 17-21 at Bass Hall.

▪ Ann: Stage West begins its 2016-2017 season with Ann, about the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, written by TV actor Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), which she performed in Austin and on Broadway. Stage West’s production will be the first without Taylor. Oct. 6-Nov. 6 at Stage West in Fort Worth.

▪ Of Thee I Sing: Lyric Stage does a concert staging of George and Ira Gershwin’s 1931 musical lampooning American politics, the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It’s right before the election: Nov. 3-6 at the Irving Arts Center.

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