Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
The Catastrophic Theatre
Tamarie Cooper (along with Jason Nodler) is the driving force behind The Catastrophic Theatre, a venue that does edgy, new works. They're the Kitchen Dog of Houston. They are housed in the warehouse district right off the freeway, behind Spaghetti Warehouse. I have a tangential history with Tamarie Cooper which is why I knew this would be a great show and had to go see it. Let me explain.
Tamarie and Jason formed Catastrophic in 2007 after the collapse of Infernal Bridegroom Productions, their previous experimental theatre that lasted 15 years and featured Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) as one of their founding members. It so happened that I had just moved back to Texas as my sister was finishing up her BA at U of H. We would drive down there and see her in a show every once in a while. Eventually she graduated and got involved with IBP, soon becoming a company member herself. One summer, she was cast in an original musical called Tamalalia 8 along with a bunch of other crazy people. The head crazy person was Tamarie Cooper who kept writing these nutty original musicals and they kept selling out every summer. So that's how I finally made it to Tamalalia X: The Greatest Hits Show, back in 2005. My sister, and the rest of Houston, was right. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen...ever! Tamarie was irreverent, making fun of everyone and everything, but most appealing to me were the numbers about the 1980's and The President's Physical Fitness test, which neither Tamarie nor yours truly could pass.
Fast forward ten years. Jim Parsons is out in Hollywood making a million dollars an episode as Sheldon Cooper and sending Catastrophic $50,000 a year. My sister's got her MFA and is working as an actress in Chicago. Tamarie is still producing her original quirky musicals every summer at Catastrophic. Catastrophic Theatre is still doing edgy, new plays with a twist: Tickets are always Pay What You Can. Their website says that no one should be denied access to theatre due to a lack of funds. So thank you Catastrophic Theatre for allowing everyone equal access to theatre, thank you Jim Parsons for helping them to do that, and thank you to Tamarie for being so funny every single year.
Here's an interview with Tamarie that was done back in 2013 when she was premiering her new musical, Tamarie's Old as Hell.
University of tamarie
Tamarie is about to send her daughter to Kindergarten and still doesn't have her BA. Welcome to The University of Tamarie! Her seventh grade guidance counselor is there to confront her about the 200+ credit hours she's accumulated but still doesn't have a degree. The gauntlet is thrown down and the challenge is accepted. Can Tamarie prove that she's learned something in all her years of being in and dropping out of college before the show's over? Does she have what it takes to make it through Kindergarten today? Will she choose Public School, Private School or Homeschool for her daughter? Can she take on the Texas Board of Education and win? Will she earn her degree and graduate? All these questions will be answered and more, usually while singing and dancing. The show runs until August 29, so make plans to go see it now. It is for mature audiences only, as Tamarie does explore subjects like keg parties, sexual experimentation, and drug use.
The technical elements of the show contributed greatly to the comedy. Scenic Design was by Ryan McGettigan. The set featured a Classical facade although skewed in perspective. There was a giant #2 pencil leaning against it on stage right and a giant red apple for teacher on stage left. There were alphabet blocks, some that lit up from the inside, scattered about the stage. The backdrop was a orange sky with blue sun rays shooting up from the horizon. I'm not sure if the metaphor was supposed to be the sun is setting on Tamarie's education, or it's the dawn of Tamarie's new day or Buckaroo Banzai blesses this play, but either way it was striking. On the stage right side were higher platforming and hanging from the grid was a giant flat screen TV that alternately projected a map of the US, a chalkboard, various photos, and short videos. The neatest trick was when Tamarie had to take a math test. She had chalk in her hand but was standing on the floor away from the screen. The screen was projecting the chalkboard image. As Tamarie drew in the air, her equation appeared on the chalkboard as she was writing it. Tim Thompson was responsible for the video design.
The costume design by Tamarie Cooper, Pam Pelligrino, and Kelly Switzer, was equally comedic. The 16 actors in the show seemed to change costumes for every number, while Tamarie mostly stayed in her uniform of navy blue dress with white polka dots that she wears in every Tamarie show. The first number, "The University of Tamarie" everyone wore the standard black graduation gown with mortar board. For the second number, "Welcome to Kindergarten" the cast changed into standard mode of dress with solid coloured polo-type shirts and khaki shorts for the boys and jumpers for the girls.
The next bit was the "Battle of the Schools" in which Private School, Public School, and Home School must compete against each other in the game of life to determine which one is the best. Tamarie and Ronnie Blane (as Troy McKenzie) wore red blazers like ESPN announcers to comment on the action. The Private school kids (2 boys and 1 girl) wore white dress shirts, ties, and navy blue blazers with khaki pants for the boys and a green and blue plaid skirt for the girl. The Public school kids (also 2 boys and a girl) wore non-uniform clothes with the girl being "pregnant" and wearing a red mini-dress over her 9 month pregnancy pad. The Home School kids (3 girls) wore identical denim long dresses over white T-shirts with Keds. All the girls had long blond frizzy wigs and silver cross necklaces.
For "Sex Education" Kyle Sturdivant, a very large and hairy man, played a female gym teacher in red lycra capri pants and a purple windbreaker with a silly blonde wig, a sweat band, and a whistle. The rest of the class was in red and white gym clothes. The Egg Baby that Tamarie had to take care of was Zach Leonard in a giant foam egg costume.
The "Lament of Useless Information" was perhaps the funniest costuming as Tamarie is urged to purge her brain of useless information to make more room for her education. All of the cast came out dressed as different things that Tamarie remembers: tap dancing, her Aunt Phyllis' recipes, 1970's TV theme songs, the Metric System, Haiku, cursive, and French. Tap Dancing was a boy and girl dressed in black and white sequined Chorus Line-esque costumes of top hats and tails. Aunt Phyllis' recipes was costumed like Sophia on the Golden Girls in a brightly coloured track suit with grey wig and carrying two pans full of food the whole number. The 1970's TV show theme songs were two guys and a girl in bell bottoms and Afros. Haiku was Kyle Sturdivant cross-dressing (again) as a Japanese woman in traditional kimono, obi, white makeup and black wig. Cursive was dressed in frilly Elizabethan doublet and pumpkin hose. French was in traditional Marcel Marceau black and white mime costume with a black moustache and red suspenders and beret. The Metric System was in a giant foam thermometer with 0 degrees Celsius and 100 degrees Celsius marked on it.
"The Texas State Bored of Education" featured Kyle Sturdivant again, as The Chairman of the Bored, his only non-cross dressing role. The number featured all the women as 1980's housewives in solid color jewel toned suits with skirts, with bad Dallas big-haired wigs. The boys came out in period costume as our Country's founders: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Jesus. John Dunn played a scary Ted Cruz. For the finale everyone reprises the opening song, this time in silver sequined gowns.
The music was mostly original, although many familiar songs wafted in and out of the soundtrack, like the 1970's TV show theme songs from "The Lament of Useless Information" scene in which the band played theme songs from The Jeffersons, Three's Company, and Laverne and Shirley. The flashback to the keg party began with Duran Duran and meandered through other 1980's hits. The house band was really talented. With only three members: Chris Bakos, Miriam Daly, and Cathy Power, they managed to fill the house with music, each member playing a variety of instruments.
We went on a Pay What You Can evening: two tickets $20.
The Foreigner at The alley at U of H
The Foreigner was Larry Shue's last play. It had been running Off- Broadway for a year. when he was killed in a plane crash in 1985. If you haven't seen the play before, here's a brief character description/plot summary. The play is set in a fishing lodge in Northern Georgia. Betty is the sweet old widow lady who owns the lodge. Catherine, her preacher boyfriend David, and her mentally challenged brother Ellard are new in town and staying in the lodge. Owen is the redneck building inspector in town who's trying to condemn the lodge. The visitors to the lodge are Froggie, a British military demolitions expert, and his friend and former clerk Charlie, who is now an editor at a Science Fiction publishing house. The action of play begins when Froggie brings Charlie to Betty's lodge to stay for a few days while Froggie is at the base training our troops. Froggie is frightfully shy and no good at social situltions and wishes there were a way that he didn't have to talk to anyone while he's there. Froggie comes up with the plan to introduce Charlie as a foreigner who doesn't speak English. His plan backfires when his foreign status only makes Charlie more interesting to the lodgers rather than less so as they try to communicate with him and teach him words in English. Naturally Charlie overhears a few conversations that he shouldn't have since everyone talks openly around him secure in the knowledge that he doesn't umderstand a word they are saying. Charlie discovers that Owen and David are in cahoots to condemn the lodge so that they can buy it cheap and turn it into the KKK headquarters. Charlie manages to develop a personality, becoming a witty raconteur. He "learns" English from Ellard, endearing himself to the women folk. Together they foil Owen's nefarious plan, exposing David's involvement, Froggie blows up David's van, and the lodge is saved as well as the day.
The great thing about this show is how well it stands up to the passage of time, unlike The Nerd, which dates itself with Willum's service in Vietman, its lead characters' constant use of old-fashioned language, and even more dated references like Marjorie Main. The only thing that dates The Foreigner is Catherine's complaint about the out of date magazines in the lodge: "'Princess Diana gives birth to her first child, a boy, as yet unnamed' Oh no! Whatever will they name that boy?". Prince William was 3 when the play was first written. The fact that he's now 33, only serves to make the magazines more out of date but does nothing to damage the contemporary feel of the play. The South still has a problem with the KKK, there are still obnoxious rednecks, corrupt preachers, out of wedlock pregnancies, mentally challenged people, and the US still has a love of (and sometimes fear of) foreigners.
The acting was spot on, The tendency with lesser actors is to overplay comedy. The more subtle and serious an actor's performance in a comedy, the better. Jeffrey Bean, who played Charlie Baker, was clearly understated right until his character warms up to his circumstances and the fellow lodgers; then he completely gives himself over to the hilarity in the situation. It was like watching Sylvester McCoy in the role.
The attention to detail on the set was phenomenal. The fishing lodge was completely rustic. There's a hardwood floor covered by braided rugs, a huge stone fireplace with a cast iron stove in the hearth. Hand-hewn logs provide the skeleton for the roof. Wood paneling abounds, as does stuffed and mounted fish, antlers, a moose head strung with Christmas lights, and a bear skin. The set is strewn with knick-knacks, out of date magazines, board games, books, and of course, Betty's collection of souvenir spoons.
The costumes were nothing special, as they should be. There's no Creature of the Black Lagoon costume required for The Foreigner, like there is in The Nerd. Charlie, being British and shy, makes his first entrance in a lot of brown and grey with a tweedy jacket, a plaid sweater vest completely buttoned up, wool trousers, and a white dress shirt and brown tie, It's the mousiest of mousy costumes. He trades that outfit in for a grey bathrobe and light blue pajamas for the next scene. Once he finally begins to enjoy his foreign-ness he then dresses in another pair of brown trousers, but this time with a yellow dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, a sleeveless burgundy cardigan that he doesn't even bother to button, and best of all--no tie. He's finally loosened up and his costume reflects that. Betty wore various pants or jeans, with plaid men's shirts, and an apron. Froggie was in military camo. Catherine wears a variety of outfits that are both summery and show off her cute figure. Even though she's just found out she's pregnant, she's a long way from showing, so no special maternity clothes or pregnancy pads required. Ellard was in denim overalls, but clean, with a clean shirt. Owen, by comparison, had on dirty jeans, a plaid work shirt with the sleeves ripped off, a faded dirty baseball cap, and a western style belt with big silver buckle. David wears nice slacks, dress shirts, and sweaters or a blazer in every scene. I was thinking that it must be cool up in those rugged mountains of Northern Georgia, if David needs to wear those sweaters. The cabin doesn't look like it has air conditioning and there were no ceiling fans on the set. The characters tell you it's summer, but no one appears to be dying of the heat. So that's a little suspicious for this Texan, but I've never been to Georgia. I did look it up on a map, and sure enough the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee do stretch right across the border down into Georgia and that's where the Chattahoochee National Forest is located. So I'm sure there's probably a lovely spot right there by a lake that's nice and cool and green even in the heat of summer and David just might need to wear sweaters in every scene. So I've learned something about US geography that I didn't know before.
The show runs through August 9th, so if you are able to get down to Houston and see it, you should.
Here's the preview video:
Here's a very brief interview with the star of the show, Jeffrey Bean.
Total cost of the Event: Dennis Draper comped our tickets for the Sunday matinee.
Houston's Museum of Fine Art
We like to fit in as many museum trips and other attractions as we can. We went to the Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rothko Chapel, and went back to the Zoo and The Menil as well. We had a lot of time to kill before the shows.
The MFA's special exhibit was Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections.
From their website:
"See the spectacular treasures amassed by one of Europe’s longest-reigning dynasties. The major exhibition Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections showcases masterworks and rare objects from the collection of the Habsburg Dynasty—the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and other powerful rulers who commissioned extraordinary artworks now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Largely composed of works that have never traveled outside of Austria, Habsburg Splendorexplores the dramatic rise and fall of the Habsburgs and their global empire, from their political ascendance in the late Middle Ages, to the height of their power in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the expansion of the dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, and ultimately its end in the early 20th century at the conclusion of World War I.
The story unfolds through more than 90 works of art, including arms and armor, sculpture, Greek and Roman antiquities, court costumes, carriages, decorative-art objects, and paintings by masters such as Caravaggio, Correggio, Giorgione, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, and Velázquez.
Habsburg Splendor comes to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, after debuting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) in February 2015. Following the Houston presentation, the exhibition opens at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in October 2015."
Gallery of photos
The Museum allows photographs to be taken of any of their exhibits. I took a lot.
The museum has many artifacts from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century. Here are just a few of the costume related items that we saw.
Total cost of the event: 2 tickets to see the Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections exhibit was $36 and it got us into the rest of the museum for free. the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rothko Chapel, and The Menil were all free. We got into the Zoo free because we are members in Waco. Thanks Cameron Park Zoo for participating in the National Zoo and Aquarium membership exchange program.