Houston comedienne Tamarie Cooper's 17th show may be billed as A Very Tamarie Christmas, but the vaudevillian romp, written in collaboration with Patrick Reynolds, is a ridiculous odyssey that thumbs its nose at the stereotypes of countless holidays. The Catastrophic Theatre production opens on Thursday and runs through Aug. 30.
Three-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons, the star of "The Big Bang Theory," one of the most successful situation comedies on network TV. For the past few years the actor who grew up in Spring and graduated from the University of Houston has given $300,000 to the Catastrophic Theatre, where he performed many times early in his career.
Jason Nodler, Catastrophic's artistic director, says he met Parsons at an audition in 1995, when the company was known as Infernal Bridegroom Productions.
"We knew right away we were going to cast him," Nodler says. "He was really wonderful."
After four years with Infernal Bridegroom, Parsons attended graduate school in San Diego, then moved to New York and eventually landed the part of a lifetime. It came with some cash to spare.
"Back when we were making plays together, pretty much growing up together, we would have dreamed of having an angel like Jim," Nodler said. "We didn't realize he was just on the next bar stool over. Of course we're very grateful. Jim's told me he thinks of his support as a way of remaining a part of our work."
Cooper's annual, original summer musical has become as much a tradition of Houston's entertainment scene as - well, as fruitcake during the holiday season. A good deal more digestible, too.
For the 17th time, Cooper has conceived, directed, choreographed and co-written a zany and freewheeling show that uses a particular topic as its satiric launching pad, then branches out to kid everything else it can work into the general pattern. In past shows, Cooper (who also stars in her creations) and her collaborators (including some of Houston's most original creative and performing talents) have skewered everything from patriotism to parenthood, the pitfalls of love to the workings of the mind.
The show, running at Catastrophic Theatre through June 14, is set in a small town with the same name as the play; its denizens eagerly introduce themselves and their surroundings to the audience. But Eno's goal is bigger than creating a picture of a village or its people: The largest questions of human existence are on his mind.
The play unfolds in a succession of interactions between the quirky characters of the nowhere and everywhere town of Middletown. The houses may look like they come from the set of Leave it to Beaver and the music that populates the play might have come from a 60’s Tupperware commercial, but the townsfolk of Middletown are anything but shiny, happy people.
In an exceedingly postmodern riff on Thornton Wilder's classic Our Town, Eno's world is bleakly comic. Laughing in the dark, you might say. Missed connections occur in every impressionistic scene mainly through deliciously wicked non sequiturs - and Eno is a master of this jagged syntax.
Actor-turned-first-time-director Kyle Sturdivant had one particular problem in working on Will Eno's Middletown - directing himself. Sturdivant, long associated with Catastrophic Theatre, tells us, "I don't like working with me. I don't recommend it. I don't have enough self-confidence to turn on a dime from the knowing director to the actor filled with self-doubt and strange characteristics."