Catastrophic Theatre launches new season in own theater

Catastrophic Theatre, Houston's leading avant-garde stage company, will launch its 2013 programming in March with Samuel Beckett's tragicomic "Waiting for Godot," one of the landmarks of 20th-century theater.

For its fifth anniversary season, Catastrophic will be "looking forward and looking back," says artistic directorJason Nodler; forward, with world premieres of a new work by noted Chicago playwright Mickle Maher and the annual summer musical created by and starring associate director Tamarie Cooper; and back, with encore productions of Wallace Shawn's "Marie and Bruce" and Maher's "There Is a Happiness That Morning Is," both works Nodler previously staged to acclaim.

Nodler in 1993 founded Infernal Bridegroom Productions and, for most of the company's 14-year history, served as artistic director. Through more than 60 productions, IBP established itself as Houston's leading alternative theater and was an early proving ground for many theater artists, including Jim Parsons.

The year after IBP ceased operations because of insurmountable financial problems, Nodler started Catastrophic, in collaboration with many longtime IBP artists, including Cooper. As was IBP, Catastrophic is devoted to developing new works, introducing distinctive contemporary playwrights to Houston audiences and producing classics of the avant-garde theater movement by such influential playwrights as Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet.

This year will be Catastrophic's first with its own home theater, the former DiverseWorks, at 1119 East Freeway. Catastrophic heretofore was a nomadic company, performing at various locations – though it staged many shows at DiverseWorks, which usually seemed an ideal fit for the company's projects. Now the company and venue bear the same name.

"For the foreseeable future," Nodler says, "all our productions will be at the Catastrophic Theatre. We're rehearsing and/or performing six days a week for the entire year."

Season schedule

Here's Catastrophic Theatre's schedule for 2013:

"Waiting for Godot," March 22-April 13. Beckett's masterpiece depicts two funny-sad tramps waiting in a barren place for a mysterious someone who never arrives and whiling the time as best they can with various games, arguments and speculations. First staged in Paris in 1953 and premiered on Broadway in 1956, "Godot" is Beckett's signature work, one of the most extensively discussed plays ever written and, for many, the definition of Theatre of the Absurd. Catastrophic scored a critical triumph with last year's production of Beckett's "Endgame," and this "Godot" will reunite that production's stars, Greg Dean and Troy Schulze, with director Nodler.

"There Is a Happiness That Morning Is," May 10-25. Uniquely funny, poignant and inspiring, Maher's intimate and offbeat romantic comedy unfolds in real time as two college professors who've just made love on the public green for all to see must apologize and defend their actions or risk losing their jobs and their relationship. The play is written almost entirely in verse and, as the profs are William Blake scholars, his poetry figures prominently. Audiences and critics alike responded so well to last year's production that the company is bringing it back, with Nodler again directing Amy Bruce, Troy Schulze and Kyle Sturdivant.

"Tamarie Cooper Is Old as Hell," July 12-Aug. 24. Cooper's freewheeling summer musicals drawn from her own life and preoccupations have become an institution. This year's premise? At the close of the opening number, the Musical Theatre Police arrive threatening to close down the show – citing Cooper for violating the Ingénue Code ("actresses over 40 must play character roles like nosy neighbors and crazy aunts"). So the lead must be recast with a younger actress. Ousted from her own show, Cooper attempts to connect with the youth of today in hopes of demonstrating she can still play herself.

"The Pine," Sept. 20-Oct. 12. Catastrophic has produced three works by Maher, the sensation of Chicago's underground theater scene – "The Strangerer," "Spirits to Enforce" and "There Is a Happiness"- each marvelously original and smart. The MAP Fund awarded Maher, Nodler and Catastrophic a commission to create a new work, and "The Pine" is the result. Described as a blend of fairy tale, ghost story and "Amazing Tales" pulp fiction, it's set in the ghost of an old hotel that serves as a way station between alive and dead. Indeed, Death himself is one of the characters, who also include a 9-foot-tall green bellhop, a fellow whose only friend is a fly and a group of pilgrims meeting to discuss "The Unread Book," a book that no one in the world has actually read. In his customary fashion, Maher draws from a number of unlikely sources to create something more than the sum of its parts.

"Marie and Bruce," Nov. 22-Dec. 14. Shawn is another of this company's favorite playwrights, represented with its strong stagings of "Our Late Night" and "The Designated Mourner." As an actor, Shawn is known for his roles in such films as "The Princess Bride," "Clueless," "My Dinner With Andre" and "Vanya on 42th Street." "Marie and Bruce" depicts a husband and wife who torment each other, yet seem determined to continue their terrible marriage. Nodler directed "Marie and Bruce" for IBP in 1999, with Cooper as the female lead. They'll reprise their assignments for this production.

As always at Catastrophic, admission is "pay what you can." Information is at