DECEMBER 10, 1999 • HOUSTON VOICE
OUT ON THE BAYOU
THEATER NEWS & REVIEWS
An invigorating 'hush'
by D.L. GROOVER
The British are coming. The British are
coming. Theatrically, at least, in Houston
First, the work of Charles Dickens
makes a wonderful appearance at the Alley
in its invigorating, faithful rendition of
A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
Jonathan Harvey brings us a double
whammy of his theatric imaginings with
the American premiere of HUSHABYE
MOUNTAIN at Theater LaB, while
BEAUTIFUL THING continues at Little
I really didn't want to see "Hushabye
Mountain"—press information about thc
production stressed its heavenly setting and
the play's subtext is AIDS. This nearly
called out "run away, run away" since it
focuses on a subject I didn't care to be lectured about again.
I was wrong.
From the first image of the side curtain
rising in balloon shades to reveal the Bird
Woman from "Mary Poppins" singing her
lullaby, "Feed the Birds," I was hooked. She
sings while a new entrant to Heaven,
Danny, receives his wings, providing the
first taste of the magical realism that is so
much a part of the production's charm.
The Bird Woman is one of the numerous
guises that Danny's mother, Beryl, assumes
in his fevered imagination while he waits in
Heaven's anteroom before he is to be
"passed through." He has died of AIDS, and
there are many unresolved issues from his
life that need clarification before he gains
entrance, providing the drama's bedrock.
Harvey's new work is a more ambitious
play than "Beautiful Thing." Full of surreal
touches that shift time and location, often within the same scene, the drama tells Danny's tale
and those closest to him; his absent yet loving
mother; his lover, Connor; Connor's brother,
Lee; and his live-in girlfriend, Lana, who happens to be Danny's best friend. To complicate
matters, Connor has taken a new lover, Ben,
and this quintet has its own unresolved issues
to deal with before Danny, and all of them, can
find final benediction.
Full of Harvey's wicked wit and vaudeville touches, "Hushabye Mountain" isn't
always successful in its preaching on AIDS.
We've heard all these arguments before, even
if here they are given an English spin. The
rants and raves of "why me?" are rather shopworn; the medical expositions are dry and
sometimes stop this play dead in its tracks.
But the characters, blissfully stoned on
weed or drunk as skunks on champagne,
keep this play interesting, free-wheeling
and beautifully daffy. The ensemble cast,
cleverly assembled by director Jim Phillips,
is of high caliber and embraces the characters with insight and grace.
As Danny's mother, Susan Shofner is
perfect. A rare find, she is luminous and radiates that special actor's warmth not often
witnessed in the theater. In her many apparitions, all variations on Beryl's middle-class
Dustin Ross and Susan Shofner in 'Hushabye
housewife gradually going dotty, she gets
to be Mary Poppins, a warped version of
Judy Garland in ruby slippers pedaling her
celestial rowboat as she collects fallen stars, a
cigarette smoking statue of the Virgin Mary, or
sad-sack dreary Mum sending her latest
recipes to Danny in heart-rending letters of
guilt. Her indelible performance is reason
enough to see "Hushabye Mountain."
Joel Sandel gives a finely tuned performance as Connor. Although Danny's the one trying to get into Heaven, it is Connor whose
heart drives this play, as he struggles with commitment, need, selfishness and forgiveness.
In one of many fine scenes, Connor and
Danny rummage through their CDs to pick
funeral music. Unintentional recriminations
lead to a tender truce and Connor, before he
carries Danny to bed for the last time, massages Danny's neck. It's over in an instant, but
the gesture says everything that's right with
their relationship, and Sandel handles it with
As an actor, Dustin Ross has a twitchy, neurotic style all his own—definitely "theatrical"
and unique, witnessed to great advantage
in "Shopping and Fucking" at Theater LaB
last season. This innocence and dangerous
dichotomy from Ross serves Danny well,
as he tries to make sense of the conflicts consuming him.
James Lane as Connor's brother, Lee, has a
dark, sexy presence like a young Sean
Connery. He adds a great deal of warmth to
this big-hearted bloke, whose love of his gay
brother and railing against hypocrisy bind all
these friends together. After the breezy, sketchy
quality of his "Beautiful Thing," Harvey's
"Hushabye Mountain" is a truer-to-life fairy
tale written with a dramatic hand.
Theater LaB Houston
Through Dec. 19
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