The UT Dallas School of Arts and Humanities is showing a production of Tragedy: A Tragedy which I attended last night. The play is a comic satire written by Will Eno and directed by Thomas Riccio.
Will Eno is an American playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. His plays have been produced in New York City, Off-Broadway and by regional and European theaters. Tragedy: A Tragedy received its world premier in April 2001 at the Gate Theater in London. His other works include Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Flu Season, Middletown, and The Realistic Jones, which just completed its run on Broadway.
Thomas Riccio is a professor of performance at UTD, writer, director, and performance creator. He is Poo Pah Doo of Dead White Zombies, a Dallas-based performance group. Riccio works extensively in the area of indigenous performance, ritual, and shamanism, developing performance and/or fieldwork in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Russia, Alaska, Korea, China, Vientam, and the Republic of Sakha (Siberia), which declared him a “Cultural Hero”.
Tragedy: A Tragedy is a deeply relevant piece on the relentless vacuity and absurdity of the modern media. While this play was in rehearsals before the Ebola “outbreak” here in Dallas, media coverage of that incident is a perfect example of the banal hysteria over something that may be nothing that Will Eno satirizes.
The play is set in a newsroom with the news desk taking center stage. Both sides of the stage feature field reporters with large screens behind them showing their “locations”. They also utilize audience spaces off stage to the left, right and front for location reports. Part of the cast are actual cameramen who film the field reports which show on the large screen behind the news anchor and more crisply on a TV set into the wall to the anchor’s left. It is an effective use of technology in not only creating a realistic news room and remote locations, but also making the audience more visibly aware of the always present camera man who we rarely see or hear, but who is instead a silent witness to the inanities, and the portal through which those inanities make it into our living rooms.
This is not a play that you can watch and turn off your brain. In other words, it’s not mindless entertainment. You will have to pay attention to not only keep up with, but understand what is (or isn’t) unfolding in front of you. Satire is not easy to pull off and I believe there are some people in the world who just don’t have the imagination to understand it. Everything is literal to them. Those people will not understand this play. Will Eno gets satire right in his writing and I found the dialogue to be fun and interesting and thought provoking. Acting satire may be even harder than writing it. I’m not positive on that point as I’m not an actor, but it makes sense intuitively. The cast is a mix of student actors and experienced actors and teachers and it shows. Satire, especially dark satire, can be very funny, making us laugh in the midst of our discomfort and becoming ever more hilarious the darker it gets. This was very uneven in the performances, with the less experienced actors not quite getting across the humor of the spiraling out of control darkness. However, there were a couple of standouts in the performances and all of my laugh out loud moments came from them.
Brad Hennigan played Frank in the Studio, or the anchor man. (Full disclosure, Brad is my brother). Last year Brad directed UT Dallas’ production of Book of Days. He is an adjunct professor of theatre for the Art and Performance Program and is a co-founder of the critically-acclaimed experimental group Dead White Zombies. He has worked locally at the Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Shakespeare Festival and Deep Ellum Theater Garage; and in Los Angeles at Sacred Fools Theatre and Attic Theatre. Brad really nailed the news anchor persona. Vain, shallow and self-importantly and blandly nattering on and on without really saying anything, uninterested in the location reporters until it was time to throw to one of them. His then self-important and frantically fearful on-air implosion as the tragedy unfolds and he has no one left to natter at, or natter back to him, is one of the funniest performances of the play.
Michael Cleveland plays Michael, Legal Advisor, the ever present “legal expert” on any news show. Michael is a graduate student in Arts and Technology. He co-runs the IB theater program in the School of Performing Arts at Garland High School. He is also an associate artist with Dead White Zombies. Michael the reporter roamed to different locations throughout the play, unlike the other two field reporters who stayed at one location. It was Michael’s responsibility to read statements from the Governor during the night but rather than reading them he became the persona of the Governor during his statements, to good effect, both while the Governor was still governing and as he succumbed to the crisis of night. Michael, being the legal expert began the play as buttoned up as you might imagine a legal expert to be and his unraveling is the most extreme of all the characters. The more tightly wound, the more extreme the unraveling.
The other actors were not terrible, just as I said not as able to bring out the humor in their dialogue the darker it got. I’m not sure if this is a failure of direction, lack of talent or probably more likely a lack of life experience, but it does not make the play unwatchable and this is a production within a university theater department which is a teaching environment.
There were no technology glitches that were noticeable and no noticeable moments of actors forgetting their lines. Every actor had long monologues of word twisting, mind-bending, even weird dialogue and I’m always amazed at their ability to memorize it. Satire should should be short, sweet and on point and this play delivers with a brisk 75 minute run time. The play finishes it’s run tomorrow night (Saturday, October 11) so there are only two more performances. If you are looking for something interesting, different and thought-provoking to do this weekend, Tragedy: A Tragedy is worth checking out.
 Tragedy: A Tragedy playbill
Saturday October 4th was an absolutely gorgeous September day here in Dallas. Clear skies, lovely temperatures in the upper 70’s/low 80’s, and a light breeze. A perfect day to attend the fair at Fair Park. We took DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit). At $5.00 for a day pass it’s a good deal and the train stops right at the entrance to the fair.
You can click on the photos to enlarge.
Tickets at the gate are $17.00 but you can purchase in advance at Kroger for $15.50. It doesn’t seem like much of a savings, but beyond the $1.50, it saved us a very long wait in the line to buy tickets at the entrance. There are long lines for everything so missing this one is a plus. Everyone is scanned with a hand held metal detector at the entrance and purses and backpacks are checked. The next line is to buy coupons. All food items and midway rides are purchased with coupons. They are .50 cents each, sold in pages of 20 for $10.00. You’ll need several more than 1 page depending on how much food and how many rides you indulge. Nothing is cheap at the fair.
Our first stop was the auto show. The State Fair of Texas is the only fair in the country to include a full blown auto show, dating back to 1904. It includes over 300,000 square feet of new model vehicles, two buildings, a Truck Zone and a Test Drive Track. Lots of really awesome cars, most of which are way too expensive! Fun to look at, sit in and dream about though. All of my auto show pictures turned out blurry. My iPhone photography skills are apparently not so great!
The next stop was a walk through a section of a giant redwood that was hollowed out and turned into a 3 room mini-house. Plenty of headroom, although someone well over 6 feet might need to stoop. It has a bedroom, living room and kitchen. No bathroom so I guess an outhouse was needed. I think mini houses are cool and I really don’t get the concept of one or two people living in giant Mansions or even McMansions, but I’d need a bathroom IN my place, no matter the size.
We then walked through a large exhibit area where you can buy everything from handmade wallets, jewelry, and purses to all kinds of art in the form of sketches, paintings, photography, and sculpture. There are some really cool things available to purchase at the fair. Next we wandered about a bit checking out the sights.
Of course you have to go and check out Big Tex. He is 52 ft. tall and the tallest cowboy in Texas. I’ve personally always found him to be on the creepy side. That said, it was sad when the original burned down a couple of years ago. There was some hope on my part that the new Big Tex would be less creepy, but nope.
I wanted to go check out all the livestock before those sections closed for the day, (we didn’t go until late afternoon) but I was overruled in favor of the midway. The most crowded and loud part of the fair, though it is fun to walk through and people watch. It is also the place to lose the most money. You can’t use coupons here, you have to buy a card and put money on it. The different games vendors then scan the card to remove the number of “credits” their game charges. It’s an ingenious way to keep you from knowing for sure how much money you’ve spent. Suddenly your card is empty and you’re either done or re-loading it, depending on your level of self control.
I’m a big fan of roller coasters and some other amusement park rides, but most fair rides I’m just happy to watch. Except for the Texas Star. It is 212 feet tall and the largest ferris wheel in North America. It’s also very popular, so be prepared for a long line. It goes pretty fast though. I think we waited about 30 minutes.
The views from the ride are fantastic and I took a lot of photos. Which were all blurry. The one below isn’t too bad though.
Our next stop was the Illumination Sensation light show on the Esplanade. Lots of patriotic music, lasers, jets of flames leaping up at random times and fireworks. I took tons of very blurry pictures that I won’t subject you to.
No trip to the State Fair is complete without a discussion of the food. There is so much to choose from that it is almost impossible to make decisions. Our crew ate corn on the cob (hot and buttery), sausage on a stick, chili pie, fries w/queso and bacon, hot dogs, funnel cakes and chocolate and pineapple waffle cones (both flavors were delicious). We tried the frozen margarita’s and strawberry daiquiri’s. The margarita was gross, the daiquiri just ok. Those are just a fraction of the food and beverage choices available and more than 200 locations across the fair serve food, so you are never far from something that smells delicious. We kept talking about stopping for a Fletcher’s corny dog, but never got around to it. It’s weird, I never think to take pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so no photos, blurry or otherwise.
The State Fair of Texas offers more than 70 amusement rides and 370,000 square feet of exhibits, so there is no possible way to see even close to everything in one trip. And by this point we were footsore and ready to head home. So off to the train station we went.
Of course, it was nearly 9:00 pm and the fair closes at 10:00, so lots of other people had the same idea. We waited for 20 minutes for the next train and even though we were close to the tracks, people made made dashes for the doors and we barely made it on that train. And then we were packed like sardines, standing in the aisles for the first leg of the trip home. Something to consider if you do take DART. The second train was not nearly as crowded and we were able to sit and relax on the rest of the ride home.
The Texas State Fair has taken place every year since 1886 except for varying periods during World War I and World War II, and pumps more than $350 million into the Dallas economy during its 24 day run each year. Security was very visible, but un-intrusive. It was extremely crowded, but everyone was well behaved and I never felt unsafe. It is definitely worth a trip if you are in Dallas between late September and late October. Just make sure you have on comfy shoes and your wallet is full!