The original script by Catastrophic member Miki Johnson takes great delight in digging through the garbage bin of the American psyche, finding that combination of ephemeral trash that could tell a stranger so much about who we are and how we live without ever actually peaking in through the window.
Johnson’s nonlinear script, a series of monologues, mixes and matches the flat metaphors, the touchstone archetypes, the cringe-inducing cliches that flood the media that flood our lives as if they were placeholders for our true selves. Though this method can at times seem no more inspired than its uninspired sources, moments later it will have you question if that’s not the crux of the matter itself — the insignificance of that tiny piece of plastic we throw away as compared with the incomprehensible vastness of the dump.
Paradise Hotel, written by Richard Foreman in 1998 and receiving its Houston premiere, revolves around four people trying to get to the fabled Hotel Fuck (for obvious reasons). And yet, obstruction after obstruction, frustration after frustration, keeps them from ever arriving. At times, they are lured away by the ever encroaching kitschiness of the competing Hotel Beautiful Roses; other times, it’s the omnipotent voice of the narrator that thwarts them; and sometimes, it’s only themselves. Catastrophic Theatre’s Greg Dean (who co-directed the play with Houston Press Arts and Culture Editor Troy Schulze) describes the unattainable Hotel Fuck as “a perfume: you can get a whiff of it, but you can’t really pin it down and get a hold of it. You only get a glimpse to let you know that there’s something there behind the veil.”
Art Attack had the pleasure of meeting frontman Black Francis (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Charles Thompson) earlier that afternoon at DiverseWorks Art Space where a short rehearsal of Catastrophic Theatre's Bluefinger was being held. Based on the Black Francis album of the same name and featuring two separate on-stage bands, the upcoming play/rock opera still has several weeks before its November 12 opening date, and things are already sounding great.
Catastrophic Theatre's renewed production of last year's Hunter Gatherers is a welcome dose of humor to help get us through the long, hot days of summer ... Shelley Calene-Black and Troy Schulze give wonderful life to characters who could otherwise easily be crowded out by the wild plotting and ranting of the hunters (Greg Dean and Amy Bruce) ... Dean takes his role with visible caveman glee and Bruce, who was in last summer's run as well, knows exactly how to pull off her scheming dissatisfaction ... For a play that begins with the slaughtering of a baby lamb, you can guess it's got a lot to live up to, and it does.
To its enormous credit, the play will leave each audience member unraveling a different thread of thought by the end of the night, but there is no doubt that all will agree on the manifold virtues of its execution. Catastrophic's production of The Designated Mourner matches the company's dedication to challenging pieces with a pure distillation of craft. With an eye towards subtlety, the intimate staging and the actors' engaging performances turn an unquestionably heady script about privilege and contradiction into something personal and moving.
Catastrophic's staging is immaculate, from the absolutely gorgeous set design to the seamless lighting changes and the evocative but hard-to-place music. There are moments when the scene changes seem completely and effortlessly cinematic ... Despite the decades-old tales of Our Late Night's offensiveness, it doesn't come across that Shawn is trying to directly provoke the audience with in-your-face assertions of truth and hypocrisy. Rather the script seems to present a way that we could talk about these strange parts of our psyches but that we don't - perhaps a way that we would talk about them if we thought we'd be understood.