Jan 1, 2014

The Last Castrato rises once more

In 2005, I approached my friend Jeff Swearingen with a script. It was a solo show written by a Chicago-based playwright, improviser and performer named Andy Eninger. Though Andy and I had not met in person yet, we had both participated in the Single File Solo Performance Festival at the historic Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago in 2004. Though I did not see his show, the blurb caught my attention. It said:
THE LAST CASTRATO centers on Joseph, who was born without a penis, and his love affair with Elena, who was born with her skin inside out. Elena, though, was blessed with a beautiful singing voice to balance her deformity, while Joseph has no talent whatsoever to make up for his missing member. "A penis," he muses, "in terms of artistic merit is worth nothing."
I contacted Andy and he sent me the script. Originally, I planned to do the piece myself, but at the time I had not directed myself in a solo show written by someone else and, truth-be-told, had not done any solo work that was not just adapted sketch comedy pieces. I figured for this piece - a real scripted play by a playwright who was not me - I would direct and design and I'll get an actor, who is not me, to perform it.

So, I approached Jeff Swearingen. Jeff had no experience in solo work, but he was a pretty good actor, I had directed him before and our comedic sensibilities overlapped enough. I submitted it to the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival (where I had produced twice before) and we were accepted.

As we rehearsed the piece, it just came alive. Jeff's energy fit the piece and between the two of us we packed tons of comic bits, characterizations and emotional levels into Andy's already kick-ass script.

Swearingen as Joseph, explaining his name, in THE LAST CASTRATO

We got pretty good press at FringeNYC, though just so-so audiences. In March of 2006, we presented it at the Out of the Loop Festival in Addison, Texas... right in our backyard. We did the first show and had about a 60% house and thought that was great. The second show was sold out. We were overwhelmed. We had been so used to performing for a dozen or so audience members. And Swearingen hit is out of the park. The reviews were great. It really launched Jeff as a versatile and comedic performer in town.

The Last Castrato: Hits High Notes By Michael Dale/ BroadwayWorld.com / August 24, 2005 
...what I wouldn't change is the casting of Jeff Swearingen, whose exuberant energy and nice-guy likability is a treat to watch. Performing with no set -- just a folding chair, two tables, minimal props and nothing behind him but a black curtain -- director Brad McEntire puts him through a cardio workout with physically demanding staging full of pratfalls and human sound effects. His fun performance of an enjoyable... script makes The Last Castrato hit some pleasant high notes. 

From Anatomical antics Swearingen shows off range in 'Castrato' by Lawson Taitte/ Dallas Morning News / March 6, 2006 
The world has been waiting for Jeff Swearingen to find a role that could contain and exploit his explosive, hilarious and truly quirky talent. He's finally got one... Under Brad McEntire's direction, Mr. Swearingen bounced between hilarity and an almost scary intensity... More than once, the audience finds itself unable to stop laughing.

After that we took the show to fringe festivals in Phoenix and New Orleans. We performed it for a weekend here and there, usually here in north Texas. It became the first of many shows that followed what would become the Audacity template... small and super-layered, portable, funny and devastating, tender and bizarre, taken out-of-town more than it stays home.

I am pleased we are remounting it for a proper run and send-off. This will be a co-production between Jeff's otherwise youth-oriented theatre Fun House and Audacity. 

It plays January 14-26 at the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge, Fair Park, Dallas. Info HERE.

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