By Bill Hirschman
On a trip to London in 1989, a matinee fell through and, in desperation, my sister and I settled for seeing a film of Henry V, starring and directed by some young guy named Kent Brannaw or some such name.
When I walked back into the sunlight, the source of my bliss was easy to identify: For years to come, I could savor whatever this Kenneth Branagh pursued as an artist. Some projects would work, some would not. But here was a fresh, exciting talent whose latest efforts I would eagerly scarf up like a new William Goldman novel or a Nanci Griffith album.
In other words, the delight of discovery. Audience members have few joys as pungent as discovery.
Which brings us to the fledgling Outré Theatre Company and Tuesday night’s staged reading of the ink-black comic drama Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead at Empire Stage – and Outré’s reading in May of the chamber musical tick…tick…BOOM.
I don’t want to slather the praise too thickly on this shoestring company that won’t be tested by mounting a full-fledged production until late this fall.
But if these two shows are any indication, South Florida’s theater scene may be on the verge of welcoming a significant new voice.
We raved about Outré’s musical last spring, but Tuesday’s reading led by Artistic Director Skye Whitcomb proved that wasn’t a fluke. Bert V. Royal’s tale of bullying and adolescence, told via an irreverent and filthy vision of the Peanuts comic strips, was hilarious, touching and, above all, promising. It was hard to believe that the cast only had eight hours’ rehearsal over three days. Some performers had most of their lines memorized, which freed them up to concentrate on acting, notably Kaitlyn O’Neill’s hilariously choreographed spoof of performance art as she morphed into a platypus.
We’ve seen most of the cast members before. But other than Clay Cartland, who is almost always this good, this tossed-together reading provided some of the most inspired, in-the-moment performances we’ve seen these particular actors give even in their polished work. So some of the credit has to go to director Whitcomb and Assistant Director Sabrina Lynn Gore. But unstinting praise is due O’Neill, Cartland, Mike Westrich, Ann Marie Olson, Ilana Isaacson, Christina Groom, Josh Harding and Patrick Rodriguez. Most of them have worked together in various permutations on stage and in small independent film projects. That clearly added to the chemistry on stage.
Outré has been raising money all season (albeit it can’t be much) with these readings. The first we attended, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, barely qualified as so-so, making the artistic success of the other two all the more surprising.
The company’s website, www.outretheatrecompany,com, sets out its mission statement: “Outré believes that theatre is a living art form with the power to re-imagine and re-examine ourselves and the world around us. We are a theatre that nurtures the creative spirit of individuals and our community through original and established works, utilizing a variety of mediums to engage the souls and imaginations of the artists and the audience. We strive to create theatre which stimulates thought, provokes reflection, and encourages activism.”
Couple those words with a DIY attitude that has to be admired, albeit with the anxiety of a concerned parent. The hard truth is that Whitcomb and Managing Director Nori Tecosky have virtually no money, and the prospect of starting up a professional theater company in the lingering recession/depression seems downright quixotic in the face of the politically marooned Coconut Grove, the meltdown of Florida Stage, the implosion of Caldwell Theatre Company, the voluntary finale of Promethean Theatre and the quiet evaporation of companies whose existence is a question mark.
But this is a group that thinks out of the box. It’s planning to offer $15 monthly “memberships” that will admit you to selected rehearsals and planning sessions to provide members a peek into the creative process and provide a venue for advice and feedback.
Further, the company has ambitious plans for a full season to produce what no one else in the region is contemplating: the cult musical The Wild Party in late November, then Avi Hoffman in the one-man retelling of The Iliad that was an off-Broadway hit last March and finally a full staging of tick…tick…BOOM.
We can hardly wait.
Sidenote: A tip of the fedora to David R. Gordon whose Empire Stage (the former Sol Theatre space at 1140 N. Flagler) has become the intermittent home for a half-dozen companies renting his auditorium slightly larger than your living room. This month, the stage tucked east of the railroad tracks and north of Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale has been hosting Kim Ehly’s world premiere play Baby GirL (which has six performances left the next two weekends and is selling out quickly). There’s also Conundrum Stages’ month-long series of Ghost Light readings (of which Outré’s outing was one) which closes this Tuesday at 8 p.m. with one-act plays by local writers James Carrey and Elizabeth Garrard. Empire also will host the new Island City Stage as it kicks off its rechristened company with The Twentieth Century Way Aug. 9-Sept. 9. P.S. The air conditioning barely works. When we hit the lottery, we’re buying these folks a Rheem.