arts eclectic

"Underground is a play that's been in my consciousness for many years," says playwright Lisa B. Thompson. "I lived in Los Angeles during the uprising-slash-riots for Rodney King. I also lived in upstate New York during 9/11... and all that's been brewing in my consciousness for quite a long time."

"It began with a woman at the center," Thompson says. "She's now just a name in the play -- the men took over, and I was happy to let them. I've been writing it for some time and the characters announced themselves quite strongly." As Underground took shape in Thompson's mind, the work came to be about two men -- Kyle and Mason -- who reunite decades after meeting in college. 

Marc Pouhé plays Kyle. "At the start of the story... he's the head of the BSA, the Black Students' Association, on campus, and he takes Mason under his wing. But they have different beginnings and different... I don't want to say endings, but different where-we-end-up-meeting-them in this story."

"My mother wouldn't let me have dogs growing up," says Circus Chickendog ringmaster Darren Peterson. "So, you know, look at me now."

"It's really asking the question, 'what is our job as artists in a time of revolution and political unrest?'" says director Jenny Lavery of the play Neva. "Is art important at that time? Is seeing art important?"

Death of a Salesman is considered by many to be the quintessential America play, so it might not seem like a natural fit for Irish director Peter Sheridan. But Sheridan is excited about the opportunity to direct the play for Austin Playhouse. "They were talking to me about Bloomsday, because obviously the fit between me and Bloomsday seems kind of perfect -- it's a play set in Dublin... but I wasn't available for those dates," Sheridan says. "And they just happened to say to me, 'We're doing Death of a Salesman next,' and I said, 'God, I'd love to do that!'."

And when he learned that Austin Playhouse was planning to do the play with an African-American cast as the Loman family, Sheridan grew even more eager. "I thought... that could be a really, really interesting take on the story," Sheridan says. Directing Death of a Salesman also meant that he'd get to work with Austin actor Marc Pouhé, who's playing Willy Loman in this production. "This is a great, great stage actor," Sheridan says of Pouhé. "He's as good as I've worked with in forty years."

At Austin's Hideout Theatre, improv is performed several nights a week, and much of the work presented there is theatrical style. "A lot of improv on stage is just... a blank stage, no costumes... but this is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum," says Hideout co-owner Roy Janik. "We're still improvising the content and the characters and the plot and all that stuff, but we'll oftentimes know what genre we're playing in, we'll tell one long story, and we'll have costumes and lights and props."

Pages