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.
No, "clean/through" is more like a stage equivalent of cinéma vérité: a series of unadorned scenes that seem to simply happen, spontaneously and inevitably, each playing out in real time. Some of the scenes involve many words, some involve few words, some none at all. The effect of this hourlong one-act is taut and disturbing. The primary impulse is to look away, try to distance one's self, yet the doings have some of the same fascination as a grisly train wreck or 12-car pileup on the highway.
The play begins with the pair returning home after a disastrous, potentially career-ending concert. The star was wasted, with the audience all too painfully aware. Once home, the couple have a confrontation about their circumstances. As "clean/through" follows the couple through the aftermath of this crisis, it looks at fame and fortune - and their absence.
"It is a love story," Johnson says. "And while it's pretty dark, it's also very experiential, impressionistic, with aspects of magic realism. It has different rules - along with its heavy, dark side.
This may be an odd thing to say about "Marie and Bruce,"Wallace Shawn's sardonically bleak portrayal of marital misery, but Catastrophic Theatre's current show likely will make most people feel good about their own partnerships.
Wallace Shawn's "Marie and Bruce" are one of those couples - you know, like Edward Albee's George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
So awash in mutual contempt and animosity that you wonder why they stay together.
Or, maybe you understand perfectly.
Tamarie Cooper and Charlie Scott know Marie and Bruce well. They played the vituperative pair in Infernal Bridegroom Productions' 1999 staging of Shawn's 1978 off-Broadway play, and now they return to the roles in Catastrophic Theatre's new production, again directed by Jason Nodler. It opens Friday.
Catastrophic Theatre, Houston's leading alternative stage company, is announcing a 2014 season of six productions, constituting the company's busiest and most ambitious lineup to date.
Founding artistic director Jason Nodler, a nationally recognized director whose productions have won praise in the New York Times and American Theatre magazine, is scheduling more shows, more new works and more regional premieres by noted contemporary dramatists.
Included are two world premieres by resident playwright Miki Johnson, the third in Catastrophic's ongoing series of avant-garde classics, Tamarie Cooper's 17th original musical and Houston premieres of critically acclaimed plays by avant-garde favorites Lisa D'Amour and Will Eno.
In "The Pine," Maher spins a wistful/loopy fairy tale that is poetic, romantic, philosophical and metaphysical - sometimes all at once.
The haunted setting is a ghostly hotel that serves as a way station between life and death for souls who have lost their greatest loves and can never cease grieving. Mourning hero Gordon attempts to follow his girlfriend, Danelle, who's committed suicide, and finds himself trapped in a labyrinth of infinite rooms. Gordon confronts various bizarre figures as he tries to find Danelle, break the hotel's spell and contrive some way for them both to check out.
Anyone who attended Catastrophic's previous Maher outings will confirm his is one of the most original voices writing today, in any medium. Each of those plays proved unique - a freshly original, blessedly unpredictable experience.
Cooper remains funny as ever, plying her defining, seemingly incongruous blend of wry self-deprecation and sly self-aggrandizement. Her falling-down-stairs-in-slow-motion routine is a mini-masterpiece of inspired nonsense. She also has directed the antics with speed, punch and amusing business. The game cast performs her lively, spoof-y choreography with energy and precision.