A new local Austin theater has turned the old Jehovah's Witnesses church building a few blocks from my home into a 96-seat playhouse! The Play Theatre Group has teamed up with local theater compnay the Coda Project, and also renting the facility out. They began their fall season with three Eugene Ionesco shorts. Nice!!
The theater's at 12th and Cedar Avenue, about a mile from the highway, due east from the capitol building. For the past 16 years I've lived just a few blocks away in the neighborhood right behind it.
I have to say, the transformation from church to theater is a big improvement as far as I'm concerned. We've already got lots of churches in the neighborhood, and I don't think the loss will cause the religiosity quotient to fall much.
The same couple of Jehovah's Witness ladies came by my house every year handing out literature, and they were always quite friendly. But let's face it. Would I rather have the building occupied by people who once a year send out door knockers to interrupt me while I'm watching football on the weekends to give me religious literature I don't want, or people staging Ionesco? Really there's no competition.
Last weekend I went with my friend Tracey to see the Sunday matinee while Kathy was out of town, but we could only stay for two of the three short plays. I should have written this up right after we saw them so I'd do a better job reviewing the performances; I've forgotten too many details.
The theater itself was cozy, well-designed and audience friendly, not a bad seat in the house. I thought they did a nice job with the performance space, though actors inexplicably used a trailer out back as a changing room - the church building is big enough that it seems like there should be enough space to change inside, but perhaps renovations aren't complete.
If you've never seen or read any of Ionesco's plays, you simply must attend this production to expose yourself to his wonderful absurdist humor. His genius and theatrical legacy are nothing short of a world treasure - a gift from a twisted mind that transformed modern humor as we know it, for the better, and the sillier.
That said, Coda's production was merely adequate - honestly not as finely performed as I might have hoped, but certainly good enough to make for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. I laughed and enjoyed myself, but perhaps might have wished a bit more from the actors (the staging was sparse, so the acting is everything). None of them particularly wowed me, but neither did I find any of their performances disappointing or poor. It was their first weekend so maybe I should cut them a little slack. I'll probably even go back again to see the third play we missed. The show was well worth the $15 admission, but if you go on Thursday night it's pay what you can.
If you like theater and you like to laugh, I'd encourage you to check out the scene for yourself - the plays are funny and you'll get a chance to visit Austin's newest theater space.
So long, Jehovah's Witnesses ... Play Theatre Group, welcome to the neighborhood