Catastrophic Theatre gives playwrights star treatment

Catastrophic Theatre will introduce Houston audiences to up-and-coming playwright Mark Schultz with two of his works during the 2015 season.

The world premiere of "The Blackest Shore" will open the five-show season Feb. 13-March 7. "Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy" will close it, Nov. 20-Dec. 12.


Hailing Schultz as "a fresh voice in American theater," artistic director Jason Nodler is following the same course he's taken with other emerging playwrights, such as Mickle Maher and Miki Johnson, whom he likewise introduced to Houston with a double dose of their work in the same season.

Born and raised in California, Schultz lives in New York and has won increasing attention with such works as "The Gingerbread House," "Deathbed" and "Everything Will Be Different," which received several playwriting honors, including the Kesselring Prize and the Oppenheimer Award.

Nodler was introduced to Schultz's work by Adam Greenfield, literary manager of New York's Playwrights Horizons, who gave him the script of "The Blackest Shore" with the directive: "This is a playwright you have to know and a play you have to read."

"I didn't for six months," Nodler says. "But when I finally did read it, I went nuts for it and immediately read everything of his I could get my hands on.

"Both the plays we're doing deal with one of my great interests, childhood trauma, but in very different ways. Mark writes so beautifully and naturally about it and captures both the devastation and the dark comedy of it."

"The Blackest Shore" centers on a troubled male teen, making a graphically violent movie, and his relationship with his father, who parted with the family after sexually abusing the son.

"Everything Is Different" is a companion piece, in Nodler's view, depicting a teen girl who desperately wants to be classically beautiful like her late mother. In her obsession with looks and beauty, the girl retreats ever further into a fantasy world built around Helen of Troy.

"It deals with entirely different childhood trauma," Nodler says. "But they're linked, in that 'The Blackest Shore' deals with how confusing and crazy and difficult it is to be a teen boy, while 'Everything Is Different' deals with how confusing and crazy and difficult it is to be a teen girl."

Catastrophic will return to the distinctive work of Maher, with the Houston premiere of the Chicago playwright's "The Hunchback Variations," April 10-May 2. In another of Maher's strangely apt mash-ups of disparate cultural references, Ludwig von Beethoven and Quasimodo (star of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") team to chair a panel on sound design, with emphasis on explaining a mysterious sound cue employed in Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."

Returning to one of the foremost playwrights of the avant-garde, Catastrophic will revive Maria Irene Fornes' "The Danube," Sept. 25-Oct. 17. The surreal, dreamlike work follows the love affair of a Hungarian woman and an American businessman visiting Budapest. Nodler reiterates his commitment to having one of the "pillars of the avant-garde" (Samuel Beckett, Wallace Shawn, etc.) represented each season. He's especially keen on Fornes, as she was his playwriting mentor at New York University.

Rounding out the series will be the annual summer musical starring and co-created by Tamarie Cooper, one of the most original talents in Houston performing arts. "The University of Tamarie" will play July 17-Aug. 29. Reflecting Cooper's preoccupations as a mother with a child entering kindergarten, the show will set its satiric sites on the educational system, its prospects for the future and Cooper's own past experiences with higher and lower learning. She promises a "truly twisted and seriously silly educational experience." This will be the 18th installment in Cooper's series of eagerly awaited summer shows.

Nodler has not directed since the company's February production of "Clean/Through" because of the debilitating side effects of treatment for late-stage Lyme disease. With those treatments concluding this month, Nodler says his condition is greatly improved, his prognosis good and his energy level higher than it's been in years. He will direct the two Schultz plays, as well as "The Danube."

Catastrophic stalwart Greg Dean will direct and design "The Hunchback Variations." Cooper will direct her musical.

Catastrophic Theatre is at 1119 Interstate 10 E.; tickets are offered on a "pay what you can" basis. Details: 713-522-2723 and