World Premiere of ‘Immortal Longings’ a Triumph at ZACH

Wyatt Fenner (left) as Vaslav Nijinsky and Steven Epp as Sergei Diaghilev in Immortal Longings. (credit: Kirk Tuck)

Immortal Longings is the new play by four-time Tony winning writer Terrence McNally. It’s currently having its world premiere in the Topfer Theater at ZACH.

The story is a fictional take on the lives of real people. Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballet Russes, is at its heart. In the main, the play focuses on his relationship with top male dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

Immortal Longings Prelim-25-Photo_ Charles Quinn
Terrence McNally (right) attended the premiere of Immortal Longings at ZACH with husband Tom Kirdahy. (credit: Charles Quinn)

In the early part of the 20th century, Diaghilev shocked most of Paris — and delighted an important minority — when he brought a company of dancers on break from St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet to a City of Light awash with modern art. With this ‘Ballet Russes,’ Diaghilev created a total work of art: a thoroughly modern mixture of ballet, visual art, and music. It used choreography never seen before, costumes and scenery by the likes of Picasso and Chanel, and cacophonous music by Diaghilev’s fellow Russians Stravinsky and Prokofiev.

Against this backdrop, McNally tells the story of the relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinsky. Bare bones of the story are known to history, but even a cursory search turns up conflicting information on who was using whom in this relationship. McNally gives his take, showing Diaghilev as the older and wiser mentor to the young and naive — yet supremely talented — Nijinsky.

Steven Epp (left) as Sergei Diaghilev and Wyatt Fenner as Vaslav Nijinksi. (credit: Kirk Tuck)

It’s more complicated than that, as both parties have other motives. Diaghilev wants his ballet company to succeed, and Nijinsky longs to become not just a star dancer, but a choreographer. Creative differences spark friction between the lovers. As Nijinsky grows in confidence, he needs Diaghilev less. The latter needs him more, and cracks start to form in the impresario’s carefree facade. The play is a push and pull between them, a blurring of lines between mentor and mentee: lovers in an unequal relationship that is ultimately unsustainable.

The play tours the audience down on a twisting mountain road of emotions, eying beautiful vistas one minute and gaping at terrifying switchbacks the next. Ultimately a poignant story, Immortal Longings is happily shot through with one-liners that had the audience bursting into surprised laughter.

McNally’s main character is realistically multidimensional. Diaghilev leaps from jovial to melancholy and back again with alacrity. Paramour Nijinsky is more of a one-note character: whiny, but beautiful.

Shannon Koob (right) as Misia Sert and James Patrick Nelson as Diaghilev’s cousin Dmitry ‘Dima’ Filosofov. (credit: Kirk Tuck)

A few others round out the cast and add flavor. Diaghilev, at middle age, is still attended by his childhood nurse. Dour and sarcastic, Dunya is supremely Russian. By contrast, ballet patroness Misia Sert is almost uniformly lively and witty while providing Diaghilev both moral and financial support.

Along with the deeply personal story, the audience gets to experience the Ballet Russes’ triumphs and flops, most famously the near-riot at the premiere of the ballet Sacre du Printemps (more recognizable to English speakers as the Rite of Spring).

Immortal Longings continues at ZACH through July 14 and is highly recommended.

Note: This show contains full nudity and is recommended for adult audiences only.

Getting More Out of Classical Music

For a lot of people, classical music is intimidating. It can seem like music written by long-dead guys from other countries can’t possibly be relevant to our lives today. But it is! Much like looking at paintings, classical music is more fun to listen to once you know a bit about who wrote it, when, and what they were trying to say.

You don’t have to become an expert, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. If you have the motivation, and a bit of spare time, you can learn a lot about the roots of classical music for free through online courses and other resources.

Craig Wright (photo courtesy Yale University)

One that I recently finished myself, and really enjoyed, is a free class available from Coursera called “Introduction to Classical Music.” It’s taught by Yale professor Craig Wright in an engaging style, full of animations and music clips. Wright’s course starts in the Middle Ages, and takes the history of music right up to the present. Along the way, you learn not only about how music itself changed over the centuries, but about the types of instruments used in different eras, and how the symphony orchestra itself grew and changed over time. While the course is mainly about classical music in the Western world, it includes some interesting comparisons with the musical traditions of the East.

Best of all, the class is made up of video lectures, ranging from about five minutes to about 20 minutes. There are optional quizzes you can take along the way, but the great thing is, there are no grades and no homework! Just enjoyment.

‘Maestro: Stories of the Great Composers’ is available to stream from Amazon Prime.

I found as I went through this class that I wanted to learn more about some of the composers who were touched on, so I began searching for documentaries on YouTube and other streaming services. This is really hit or miss. In some cases, I would bookmark multiple documentaries on a single topic, then watch the first minute or two of several before I came upon one that looked like it was going to hold my attention. So spending a bit of time on this will be ultimately rewarding.

In particular, I will recommend a great documentary series I found on Amazon Prime Video that covers Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Chopin called “Maestro: Stories of the Great Composers.” Each episode is a fascinating look about the life of the composer intermingled with musicians playing their work today, talking about how they perform it and what it means to them.

Robert Greenberg

The last resource I’ll mention are audio courses available from The Great Courses. I have listened to one so far, called The 23 Greatest Works for Solo Piano, via Audible. Many of The Great Courses are available through library streaming services, so I recommend you check with your local library before laying out any money!

The lecturer for the course I listened to is Robert Greenberg, whom, while being a renowned expert, is also irreverent and highly entertaining. He discusses the composers’ personalities and their lives and times, making it a course not only in music, but history, as well! The lectures were peppered with great piano music, too.

Greenberg narrates more than two dozen of The Great Courses in music, so if piano music isn’t your thing, there are lots of other topics to choose from.

So the next time you find yourself with an opportunity to check out a classical music performance, might I recommend that you spend a little time online, and do a little research before going? Watch a documentary about the composer. Check out some YouTube videos of commentary. I think you’ll be amazed how much a little free research beforehand will add to your enjoyment.

Header illustration credit:



Review: CATS a Thrilling Spectacle at Bass Concert Hall

GroupCATS by Matthew Murphy. 2019 (1)
Cast of CATS. (photos by Matthew Murphy)

Tuesday night, I attended the opening of CATS at Bass Concert Hall, part of the UT Performing Arts season of Broadway Across America.

It was a raucous, high energy, nearly overwhelming spectacle of music, voices, dance, and costumes. In short, it was fun. And if you don’t stop to puzzle about the almost complete lack of plot, then you’re golden.

Keri René Fuller as Grizabella in the North American Tour of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy 2019

Keri René Fuller as Grizabella

I recommend that you suspend your search for a deeper meaning, and let yourself be carried along through a series of musical numbers separated by an extremely minimal level of dialog. Each number introduces a different cat (or two) and explores its, ahem, personality — and proclivities.

There’s the railway cat (Skimbleshanks), the stage door cat (Gus), the mischievous cat burglars (Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser), and the patriarch (Old Deuteronomy). There’s the now-elderly glamour cat (Grizabella), who sings a crowd-pleasing rendition of the show’s hit “Memories”) and the flashy, Elvis-like cat that sends the girls swooning (Rum Tum Tugger). There’s the sly trickster (the magical Mr. Misstoffelees), the uncatchable criminal (Macavity), and a fat, self-satisfied, bourgeois (Bustopher Jones). And that’s not even all of them.

McGee Maddox as _Rum Tug Tugger_ and the North American Tour Company of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy. 2019
McGee Maddox as Rum Tum Tugger

The sheer variation of musical styles and choreography is dizzying, but in a good way. Some are funny, some are sexy, some are moving, and some strive to be a bit frightening. One cannot get bored. The athleticism of some of the dancers was astonishing.

If you’re looking for something that will blow you away, CATS is recommended. It’s showing at Bass through Sunday, May 12.


Review: The Ballad of Klook and Vinette

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Chanel as Vinette. (Photos by Kirk Tuck)

This past weekend, I took in the new musical The Ballad of Klook and Vinette, which is  making its regional debut on the Kleberg stage at ZACH Theatre.

The musical fields a cast of two, the titular Klook, played by Roderick Sanford, and Vinette, played by Chanel. It tells the story of a May-December romance between a younger woman and older man, both of whom have complicated pasts that we learn about through the course of the show. In many respects, each of the characters are interesting, and the actors do a good job of bringing them to life. The material they have to work with, however, holds them back a bit.

The show gets off to somewhat of a slow start, and makes use of what I would call tired dramatic tropes. The style of dialog given the actors also was sometimes puzzling.

It becomes obvious as the story unfolds that despite their circumstances, both Klook and Vinette are self-taught, widely read, and fairly high-minded thinkers. So I don’t question their intelligence. But sincerely, the number of big words they throw at each other in extremely rapid-fire delivery put me in mind of a poetry slam instead of a conversation between lovers.

02_ZACHTheatre_Ballad of Klook_2489_Photo by KirkTuck
Roderick Sanford as Klook.

However, the play got better and richer — and certainly more dramatic — as it went on. I appreciated the emotional journey each character went on, starting in one place, then coming together (their shared journey changing each character profoundly), and ending up in a new mental space by the end. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say more. I did cry, though.

As well, each of the protagonists got to deliver a number of slyly funny one-liners that had the audience laughing, a welcome relief as much of the second half of the show is fraught with tension.

The musical is peppered throughout with about a dozen songs. Both actors sing well, but Chanel’s belting out of some of the tunes is especially spectacular. The singers are accompanied by Christian Magby on piano and Anna Macias on upright bass (for the showing I attended; some performances feature Ricky Pringle on bass). I enjoyed all of the music, and appreciated the piano and bass accompaniment in scenes with no songs, rather just a bit of underlying jazz riff to set the mood.

With book by Ché Walker and music and lyrics from Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyefook, The Ballad of Klook and Vinette continues at ZACH through May 26.

Landmarks Book Hits Mostly Right Notes

Landmarks, a book celebrating 10 years of UT Austin’s eponymous public art program, came out from The University of Texas Press in December.

At 160 pages and including more than 200 color images, it’s a good guide to the wide-ranging collection that can be seen all across the Austin campus. The inside back cover features a map showing the locations of all the works.

Bober_7188_CVR.inddThe meat of the book is made up of brief articles on each of the pieces in the collection. The articles are informative about the works and the artists, and the accompanying photos are stunning.

Indeed the book makes plain the high level of art that the Landmarks program has brought to UT in just 10 years — a short time to build a world-class collection. The art lover who hasn’t visited UT recently may be surprised to discover works by James Turrell, Sol LeWitt, Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, and others. This book can, and should, serve as a guide to help lure art lovers to Austin.

If the book has one failing, it’s that it lacks information about the decision process regarding how each work was selected for the place on campus it now occupies. To me, one of the things that makes the Landmarks program wonderful is the interaction of the art with the living campus, that environment full of different kinds of learning, different kinds of architecture, and most importantly, different kinds of people. I think this book could be taken to the next level by the inclusion of such a discussion. Perhaps the next edition will go for it.

The book is a high-quality paperback, and retails for $19.95.

Visiting a Hill Country Sculpture Ranch

Landscape architect Ciel Williams (center) discusses his design for displaying the sculptures at the ranch. Umlauf Museum curator Katie Robinson Edwards is at far left. (author photos)

Hi everyone! I’m back. For the last few months, a family emergency has needed all my time and energy, but things have calmed down somewhat now. I’m happy to be back and talking about art around Austin.

Umlauf’s Standing Bather II, 1958

Today I want to tell you about a glorious January day I spent in the Hill Country on an excursion to view the largest collection of sculptures by Charles Umlauf in private hands. This jaunt to Star Canyon Ranch, the home of Mary and Bill Mitchell, was organized by the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

The large group of art lovers traveled together on a bus from the museum in downtown Austin to the ranch in Dripping Springs. We were met by Mr. Mitchell and Ciel Williams, the landscape architect who worked with the couple to realize their vision at the ranch.

As we walked through the grounds covered in enormous trees dappled with beautiful sunshine, Williams detailed the decades-long process of turning Star Canyon Ranch into an outdoor art gallery. Mr. Mitchell shared some stories of how they acquired some of pieces — a few purchased directly from Mrs. Umlauf after the sculptor’s death.

Umlauf’s Mother and Child (Seated), 1970

Combined, the house and grounds show more than two dozen works by Umlauf in bronze, wood, and other materials. Other artists are also featured. The collection focuses on Texas artists.

The dully gleaming bronzes, usually placed atop natural limestone boulders pressed into service as pedestals, created a calm atmosphere for us as as we walked between the Texas trees to the accompaniment of light breeze. It was a great experience, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the unique “Texas-ness” of the place. I’ve been to other sculpture gardens — in Texas, the U.S., and Europe — but I’d never seen this combination of fine art in such a familiar, wild yet beautiful, environment with only minimal enhancements to make the most of the Hill Country landscape. This was high art, Texas style.

Want to visit? Star Canyon Ranch is normally not open to the public, but the Umlauf museum works with the Mitchells to bring folks to tour it every so often. Check with the museum for information on future tours.


Review: ‘Fun Home’ at Ground Floor Theatre

At back left, Dave Hawks as Roy and Sarah Marie Curry as adult Alison. Center, front L-R: Devin Gramling as Christian, Mariela Denson as Small Alison, and Eric Judge as John. Back: Jim Lindsay as Bruce and Alejandra Murga as Helen. Images courtesy Ground Floor Theatre.

Earlier this week, I went to see Ground Floor Theatre’s production of Fun Home, 2015’s Tony winner for Best Musical.  Along with a sold-out audience of about 120 in the small venue, I saw an at times tear-jerking, and at other times laugh-out-loud story of a young woman’s journey from child to adult within a repressed family that hides explosive secrets.

Fun Home is the true story of the life of cartoonist Alison Bechdel, based on her award-winning graphic memoir of the same name (and her family’s joking name for the funeral home they owned in a small Pennsylvania town, where her father was also a high school English teacher).

Sarah Marie Curry as adult Alison narrates while drawing her memoir

Three actors portray Alison as the action jumps back and forth through time, showing different vignettes in her life. Sarah Marie Curry plays the adult Alison, narrating most of the action from her drafting table. Taylor Flanagan plays Middle Alison as she leaves home and heads off to Oberlin College. Mariela Denson opens the play as Small Alison, still living at home with her parents and two brothers.

The three show her as she figures out first that she’s different, and later that she is gay. While in itself momentous, this happens along with the near-simultaneous discovery that her beloved father is in the closet and having affairs with young men. As the story plays out, we see the consequences for Alison and the rest of her family.

Taylor Flanagan (right) as Middle Alison talks with college friend Joan (Sandra May Frank)

While the whole company gives enjoyable performances, the three Alisons shine. The the musical numbers are rollicking and heartwrenching by turns, sung to the accompaniment of a six-piece live orchestra. Particular favorites include the poignant “Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue,” sung by the whole Bechdel family and “Changing my Major,” by Middle Alison in the ecstatic first flush of new love. The finale includes a wonderful number of all three Alisons singing together in “Flying Away.”

Fun Home at Ground Floor Theatre is highly recommended. It continues through December 22.

Featured image on homepage shows (L-R) Sarah Marie Curry as adult Alison, Mariela Denson as Small Alison, and Taylor Flanagan as Middle Alison singing the finale.

ATX Free Holiday Concerts & Shows


The holidays can be stressful, so why not relax and take in some holiday music, dance, or even a comedy show? Of course Austin is full of entertainment options, but our list of holiday shows has one extra advantage: Every event listed here is free. Whether you are looking for classical music, laughs, or dance, you can find it below.

Are there any more events you know of? Tell us in the comments.

Austin Symphony’s Christmas in the Community
December 1-20
Locations vary

Organizers say: The Austin Symphony is once again bringing free music to all Austinites this holiday season. “Christmas in the Community” is a series of concerts held throughout the city of Austin featuring different ensembles of the orchestra playing familiar holiday music. The program kicks off on December 1st at the Macy’s at Barton Creek Mall and concludes December 20th with big band music by members of the orchestra at Central Public Library. complete schedule

Abuelita’s Christmas Carol
December 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 Red River St.

Organizers say: Abuelita’s Christmas Carol is a delightful one-hour performance that tells the story of Abuelita, a Mexican-American grandmother who feels that her life doesn’t matter until spirits from her past help her realize how much she is truly loved. This free show is a comic and heart-warming story for all audiences. more information

Noche Navideña
December 8 at 4 p.m.
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 Red River St.

Organizers say: Each year Univision TV partners with ESB-MACC to bring you a family program to kick off the Christmas season with music, arts activities, and much more. This Christmas-themed event features Posada, ornament making, Latin American music, folkloric ballet, mariachis, and more! more information

This Asian American Life: A Holiday Comedy Show
December 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.
Asian American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron Rd.

Organizers say: Hot Pot Comedy presents This Asian American Life, a holiday sketch comedy show featuring Austin’s only all-Asian American sketch comedy troupe. Join them for a night of family-friendly, irreverent humor based on their personal experiences and what it means to live an Asian American life.  more information

The Nutcracker: A Sweet Duke Ellington Suite
December 15 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
George Washington Carver Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina St.

Organizers say: Ballet Afrique and The George Washington Carver Ambassadors present “The Nutcracker: A Sweet Duke Ellington Suite.” Join us for a free afternoon of crafts, performance, and a tribute to Harlem Renaissance pianist and composer Duke Ellington. more information

Austin Philharmonic Orchestra Holiday Concert
December 16 at noon
State Capitol Rotunda

Organizers say: Enjoy traditional holiday favorites such as Sleigh Ride, Rudolph, a Christmas sing-along, music from Haydn’s Toy Symphony, and “Deckin’ the Halls” by Kathryn Ellis.

Austin Classical Guitar’s Season’s Greetings
December 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Central Library, 701 W. Cesar Chavez St.

Organizers say: Join us for a holiday celebration for everyone! Austin Classical Guitar is bringing together local artists to share stories and songs about this special time of year. more information

Austin Civic Wind Ensemble Christmas Concert
December 16 at 5 p.m.
Covenant United Methodist Church, 4410 Duval Rd.

Organizers say: Please join us for a concert of your favorite holiday music including Leroy Anderson’s classic A Christmas Festival and music from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Rockin’ Holiday Extravaganza
December 20 at 5:30 p.m.
The Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Organizers say: Panoramic Voices returns to the Blanton Museum of Art for a fifth collaboration with Austin symphonic rock staple, the Invincible Czars, and special guests Nakia, Taylor Muse (Quiet Company) and Carrie Fussell (Calliope Musicals). This free concert features some expected favorites while also reaching out to those for whom the holidays are difficult, offering hope in the form of poignant anthems and seasonal sing-a-longs. more information

TubaChristmas Austin
December 21 at noon
South Steps of the State Capitol

Organizers say: Created by Harvey Phillips, Merry TubaChristmas 2018 concerts will be presented in over 300 cities throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. Every performance features traditional Christmas carols especially arranged for the first TubaChristmas, December 22, 1974, on “The Rink at Rockefeller Center” by American composer Alec Wilder. more information

ATX Holiday Makers’ Market Roundup

Photo by episoneridani

It’s the holiday season, and visions of shopping for gifts are dancing in our collective heads. If you’re looking for some creative gifts for your nearest and dearest, you might want to check out one or more of the myriad makers’ markets popping up all over town.

In addition to unique sale items, several offer live entertainment, food, and drinks. Here are ten to consider:

Blue Genie Art Bazaar
Nov. 23-Dec. 24
6100 Airport Blvd.

Organizers say: We have thousands of original works ranging from serious art to fun, kitschy items. Shopping at the Bazaar is a great way to buy holiday gifts in a hassle-free environment, all while supporting local artists. All items at the Bazaar are handmade by local and regional artists that are selected through a rigorous jury process. The Bazaar features the work of more than 200 artists offering a wide variety of imaginative and beautiful gifts. You can expect to find paintings, photography, prints, sculptures, jewelry, clothing, accessories, glassworks, ceramics, and more gifts you can’t find anywhere else.

23rd Annual German-Texas Christmas Market
Dec. 1; 10AM-5:30PM
German Free School Building (507 E. 10th St.)

Organizers say: Come for the food and entertainment. Stay for a unique shopping experience. We will have authentic German, handcrafted Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, Schwiebogen, smokers and decor. Enjoy some Gluehwein (hot spiced wine), Christmas Stollen made by The New World Bakery and gingerbread hearts made by Uwe’s Bakery. Up for some German cookies? Try out Silke’s German Gourmet Cookies.

Art from the Streets 26th Annual Show & Sale
Dec. 1-2; 11 AM-5PM
Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St.)
Suggested donation $5

Organizers say: We will have thousands of pieces of artwork for sale from over 100 artists. 95% of sales goes directly to the artist. The mission of Art From the Streets is to provide a safe and encouraging environment in which the positive spirit and creativity of homeless and formerly homeless people is nurtured through artistic expression, and to provide them with a source of pride and income through the sale of their work.

Thornton Rd. Studios 26th Annual Holiday Show and Sale
Dec. 1, 11AM-8PM and Dec. 2, 11 AM-5PM
2309 and 2311 Thornton Rd.

Organizers say: Come experience the art and artists at Thornton Road Studios and get some Christmas shopping done! Beautiful art done by beautiful artists including mosaics, pottery, painting, watercolor, ceramics, sculpture, metal works, photography, fantasy art, jewelry. Come and join us for two days of art, food, and demonstrations.

Umlauf After Dark: Winter Fair
Dec. 4; 6-8 PM
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (605 Azie Morton Rd.)
Admission $5; free for members

Organizers say: Get a jump on your holiday shopping and support the Umlauf at the same time! We’ll have great local and handmade gifts available from local artisans and makers. Activities include live music, lawn games, and ornament making. We’ll have a bar and free beer so that you can sip while you shop and hang out!

Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair
Dec. 8; 10 AM-1 PM
Byrne-Reed House (15th & Rio Grande St.)

Organizers say: A number of noteworthy authors — including Lawrence Wright, Sarah Bird, H. W. Brands, Elizabeth Crook, Joe Holley, Bill Wittliff, Carrie Fountain, Michael Barnes, Mimi Swartz, Chris Barton, Don Graham, Bethany Hegedus, Kyle Longley, Austin Bay, Kenny Braun, Samantha M. Clark, Xelena González, Paul Woodruff, Bronson Dorsey, Virginia A. Cumberbatch, Leslie A. Blair, Bill Wright, Wyatt McSpadden, Barbara Morgan, Kevin Robbins, Anne R. Keene, and Jennifer Ziegler — will visit with the public and sign copies of their latest books, which Humanities Texas will offer for purchase at a discounted price. Available titles include works of fiction and nonfiction, with selections for both adult and youth readers. Proceeds benefit Texas libraries.

Cherrywood Art Fair
Dec. 8-9, 10 AM-5 PM
Maplewood Elementary (3808 Maplewood Ave.)

Organizers say: Cherrywood Art Fair is an art-filled, two-day event showcasing local artists, live music, kids’ activities, and great food in a free, family-friendly environment. More than 8,000 visitors stroll through the fairgrounds looking at art, listening to beautiful music and sampling some of Austin’s finest food trailer cuisine. Since its 2002 inception, the fair has served as a destination for discerning holiday shoppers seeking unique and artful items from Texas artists and makers. Proceeds benefit Little Artist BIG ARTIST, our free after-school arts mentorship program in six East Austin elementary schools.

Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Dec. 13-24, 11 AM-10 PM
Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Rd.)
Admission $10

Organizers say: This year Armadillo Christmas Bazaar offers shoppers 12 days to explore an exciting variety of fine art, handmade gifts, heirloom pieces, and stocking stuffers from over 175 carefully curated contemporary artists and makers. Enjoy at least three live music performances per day, two full bars and delicious local food, while shopping from national and local award-winning artists and makers, all in a festive, lively atmosphere.

East Side Holiday Market
Dec. 14, 6-10 PM
REVELRY (902 E. 5th St.)

Organizers say: Stop by REVELRY for three blocks of holiday cheer! We’re snagging some great locally sourced talent (from makers to music to grub) to give you one stellar shopping experience. Family friendly and free to attend, so don’t forget to support our vendors and buy a little somethin’!

Unique Markets Holiday Pop-up Austin
Dec. 16, 11 AM-6 PM
Brazos Hall (204 E. 4th St.)
Admission $5; under 12 free

Organizers say: Shop from the best modern, independent designers, artists, and emerging brands this holiday season! Find one-of-a-kind gifts, shop with your squad, or bring the whole family for a fun and unique shopping experience. The energetic, festival-like atmosphere includes great music, free drinks and DIY projects, photo booth fun, and admission includes a limited-edition cotton tote bag!



Review: Austin Shakespeare’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

Brick & Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof PC Bret Brookshire (digital)
Gwendolyn Kelso as Maggie and Zac Thomas as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . (Photos by Bret Brookshire, courtesy of Austin Shakespeare.)

This past Friday, I attended opening night of Austin Shakespeare’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Long Center’s Rollins Theater. Let me tell you, that Tennessee Williams don’t mess around. No punches are pulled in this agonizing family drama set in the 1950s in the rural South.

If you’ve only seen the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, you’d be as shocked as I at some of Williams’ dialogue. As is pointed out in this production’s program, it was sanitized for movie audiences.

The real deal, as seen on Friday, was rife with cursing and discussions of sex in both the younger generations and old. But beyond the shock value, what got to me was how Williams digs under the surface of people’s lives and pulls out their deepest fears and forces them to confront them. If Cat is about anything, it’s about bringing everybody’s secret — sometimes shameful — desires out into the light. In other words, airing everyone’s dirty laundry in front of their relations and forcing them to own it.

The cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof PC Bret Brookshire
Center: Ev Lunning, Jr., as Big Daddy. Background, L-R: Robert Deike as Gooper, Corinna Browning as Mae, Patrick Schmidt as Reverend Tooker, Derek Webster as Doctor Baugh, and Zac Thomas as Brick.

The heart of the play are the characters Maggie (the eponymous Cat), played by Gwendolyn Kelso, and her husband Brick, played by Zac Thomas. The characters, and therefore the performances, couldn’t be more different: Maggie is loud, demonstrative, and speaks every thought that’s in her head. Williams has drawn the character to be over the top, and Kelso plays it to melodramatic perfection with a drawling Southern accent. On the other hand, Brick is meant to taciturn, withdrawn, and refuses to say what he’s thinking. With few words and gestures, Thomas portrays the character’s inner turmoil. And as Brick is continually harassed not only by Maggie, but also his father (or Big Daddy, played by Ev Lunning, Jr.), the play builds to a painful climax as Brick finally explodes.

Thankfully, the play is lightened periodically by the sheer comic value of the outrageous things people say — especially Big Daddy. After a lifetime of playing the noble husband, receiving some good news affords him an opportunity to cut loose. Lunning shows him to be delightfully determined to live it up, reveling in shocking his family as he voices his ignoble plans.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not a joyful story, but it is a masterful look at what we all carry around with us, hiding from the world behind happy smiles and good-natured laughter. The production continues at The Long Center through December 2.