reviews

"Review: 'Sanctuary in Endless Poetry'" by Jamé McCraw

Alejandro Jodoworsky’s Endless Poetry is the second installment of the Chilean director’s autobiographical trilogy. It continues where The Dance of Reality (2013) leaves off, in Santiago, Chile, exploring the artist’s years as a young adult. Although Endless Poetry is the first film I have seen by this well-known filmmaker, I found it to be an incredibly accessible introduction to a body of work that began nearly five decades ago.
 
In act of open rebellion, the crestfallen and irate young Alejandro Jodorowsky fells a family tree after being ridiculed for his dreams of being a poet by his father and comically cruel and deceitful extended family. His cousin, who is never shown without his beloved dog in his arms, is his only ally after the event. He leads Alejandro to his new home and family where he lives in the company of artists and dancers, including a ballerina who is in perched in toe shoes for the duration of the film.
 
His mother, portrayed by Pamela Flores, is also at odds with the extended family. She aims to please to no avail. Every line she speaks is sung in a billowy soprano but this characterization, unique only to her, seems to tie the young poet to his mother under the umbrella of art. She is suppressed and constrained in her life, figuratively and literally, by the tight corset she wears. Her young son does not wish to live such a suppressed life.
 
To portray the push-and-pull dichotomy the filmmaker had with his father, Jodorowsky symbolically cast his own sons in the roles. His oldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky, plays his father, and his youngest son, Adan, plays himself. The director bends the scope of time by inserting himself, an older man at this point, into scenes throughout the movie. He offers advice to the ghost of himself, as if to offer peace and consolation, influencing the course of events to a different outcome.
 
While under the care and guidance of his new family of misfit artists, young Alejandro flourishes. He improvises poetic verse on the spot to a captive audience. He is directed to a nearby bar to find a muse to further influence his pursuit of beauty, poetry, and life. He meets the voluptuous and bold Stella Diaz with shocking long vibrant red hair and her body painted. Her mannerisms are comically bold. She pounds booze, brawls with brutish strength, and laughs loudly with disdain. Pamela Flores, the same actress who plays Alejandro’s demure songbird mother plays Stella. She is hardly recognizable. In a moment of emasculating chaos, Alejandro distances himself from this overwhelming influence of Stella.
 
He eventually finds a faithful friend and accomplice in performance and poetic pursuits in Enrique Lihn (played by Leandro Taub). In one memorable scene, the two attempt to prove they need not break stride for obstacles and continue walking a straight path through town by bounding over a produce truck and politely passing through the home of a stranger.
 
Endless Poetry features many comical moments of rebellion. It is endearing to see the cast of characters “yes-and” one another’s impulses in organic moments, be they energetic bursts or more organized settings.

Even when there is discord or pain, a celebration can be found in the act of reconciliation or while processing grief. There was much care put into this film, and the tenderness is evident in each beautiful moment. Jodorowsky celebrating his life in this way is very touching and an inspirational reminder to any artist with a dream. And whether or not you have found your tribe of misfits, rest assured you will feel welcome into the loving group of friends portrayed in this movie.

*Endless Poetry will be playing at Texas Theatre with multiple showings Friday, July 21 - Friday, July 28.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

"Fall in Love with 'A Brief, Endless Love—a Sketch Comedy Revue' by Matt Lyle" By Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

I almost didn’t make it to Dallas Comedy House for opening night of A Brief, Endless Love, the latest work by award-winning playwright, Matt Lyle. The Texas sky had opened, dumping several inches of summer rain across the city, but I decided to buck up and venture out anyway.

During my 15-minute commute, I saw at least four accidents, even more emergency vehicles en route to other accidents, and—inexplicably—a man standing on the side of the street dressed only in a zipped-up, hip-length raincoat and wellies while holding an umbrella. That is to say, the man was not wearing any pants. I wondered if this was an omen; thought maybe this was a sign for the oddities of things to come, concerned that this would be the highlight of the night. But, I am pleased to report that it was not. In fact, the night only got better from there—much better.

A Brief, Endless Love fires on all cylinders. Its touching real-life perspective creates poetry in comedy, and leaves you laughing until you cry.

“I grew up basically an only child. It was just me and my dad,” said writer Matt Lyle, who also wrote Hello, Human Female and The Boxer to much acclaim. “I’m married now, and I have a child, and life is full of love, but nothing can pull at me like the search for love. I’ve always looked at everything I’ve written from that very real human place.”

That essence of humanity is embodied in his ensemble cast of seasoned performers, most of whom Matt has known and worked with for years—he’s even married to one of them. Steph Garrett, Kim Lyle, Jeff Swearingen, and Jeremy Whiteker bring to life the joy found in every dark corner and depict the loneliness found in each scene with a lightness of life that makes them instantly endearing.

From the mad scientist answering an ad on Match.com to parents questioning their preteen’s professions of love by describing—in very real terms—what goes into real love to the Stanley Sisters, which features Dot (my favorite character of the bunch, artfully portrayed by Steph Garrett), I could not imagine better players in these role or better performances by these players. And that’s for good cause. While a cast typically writes its own sketch shows, Matt Lyle already had much of the material for A Brief, Endless Love and then cast and honed that material to the strengths of the performers. What results is a cohesive, hilarious ensemble that will keep you on the edge of your seat and laughing from your belly.

Fortunately for us, belly laughs will not be in short supply. Matt Lyle likes to write—a lot. Writing is his creative outlet, which juxtaposes nicely against his IT job at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. He imbues his characters with such refined and unexpected comedic relief that it inspires performers and writers alike to embrace their own humanity and push themselves farther. With luck, we’ll have many more opportunities to see his take on the human condition.

“Always start with the most recognizable, true-to-life thing and go from there,” he said.

And fortunately for us, that is something Matt Lyle is damn good at it.

A Brief, Endless Love runs at the Dallas Comedy House every Friday & Saturday night at 9 p.m. now through June 24. You should go—like me—come hell or high water.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make her life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.

(Top image: Matt Lyle. Middle image: Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa)

"Freek Appeal" by Jamé McCraw

I was nearing my ninth birthday and preparing for the fourth grade during summer 1994. My best friend was away for the summer leaving me on my own to search for new ideas and sources of inspiration. I was overflowing with boundless energy fueled by Fruit-by-the-Foot, Gushers fruit snacks, and Welch’s fruit-flavored soda but never any actual fruit. My greatest joy came from staying up odd hours of the night alone and watching videotapes rented from Cox Video.

One night, while looking at the new release wall, something caught my eye. A slender VHS case with a canary yellow spine with the word “FREAKED” in funky, bright-pink letters. The cover was sky blue, featuring unusual characters along the border including a sock-puppet man, a cow man, Mr. T, and Michael Stoyanov who I recognized from his role as the brother in Blossom who doesn’t utter a dumb catchphrase. Freaked stars Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure alum Alex Winter. Winter co-wrote and co-directed this feature alongside Tim Burns and Tom Stern. Hideous Mutant Freekz, at its inception, was meant to be an offensive, crude, and violent horror film. After Fox provided the creators with a budget of $12 million, the film was toned down considerably, placing it in the comedy genre with a PG-13 rating and the title was altered to Freaked. It tested poorly and was not widely distributed. Luckily, it wound up on video shelves for unsuspecting weirdos like me to discover.

There are no trailers before Freaked, which opens to flashing strobing images and the most aggressive music my 8-year-old ears had ever heard. Henry Rollins’ guttural screams, fast drums, and jarring guitar riffs blast bombastically alongside an incredibly psychedelic and brightly patterned title sequence by artist David Daniels. Claymation depictions of freaky characters are smeared transitioning into new images. It’s harsh and unsettling, but I absolutely love it.

The story begins with an unusual news bulletin about a “flying gimp” that has been destroyed. It is now safe for people to return to their homes. This is never explained. Why did they have to leave their homes? Your home is supposed to be the safest place you can be. Yet, there is this threat that is exceptional - it can fly but also is hindered -it is a gimp. Crisis averted, so don’t worry about that. The scheduled program resumes, which is a talk show called "The Skye Daley Show." Brooke Shields as Skye Daley appears bubbly and bright in contrast to her guest Ricky Coogin (Alex Winter) sitting in shadows of a heinous silhouette.

Ricky is a has-been child star who becomes the spokesman for a company called E.E.S. (Everything Except Shoes) and is accompanied by his friend Ernie (Michael Stoyanov) to promote a hazardous chemical called Zygrot-24. The pair flies to Santa Flan, an island named after the patron saint of creamy desserts. They trick an eco-activist named Julie (Megan Ward from Encino Man) into traveling with them and fall prey to Freak Show proprietor Elijah C. Skuggs (Randy Quaid). This sun-scorched redneck transfigures the Gen X trio into hideous mutant freaks. The supporting cast features Mr. T as the bearded lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a hand-puppet freak called Sockhead. Keanu Reeves is uncredited as Ortiz the Dog Boy. He is covered in fur and sounds like Antonio Banderas. They are forced to perform hokey vaudeville acts for crowds, and chaos ensues. The freaks band together to emancipate themselves from the clutches of Skuggs. In one memorable scene, two walking, giant Rastafarian eyeballs attempt to thwart an escape effort with the entire gang disguised as old-fashioned milkmen. It is amazing.

Freaked
Freaked

Freaked triumphs in its enduring audacity. There are so many tropes and gags jammed into this story, but it never feels overwrought. The pacing is nimble, and the saga is truly unique. The production design, sets, and makeup are unlike anything. While it certainly has a late-1980s/early-1990s aesthetic, repeat viewings are never cloyingly reminiscent of that era. It feels timelessly original. In the midst of a cavalcade of grotesque visuals, there is an endearing sweetness to this passion project.

I have never seen a widescreen version of this movie and was delighted to find that the film is available in its entirety on YouTube with extra scenes. When Cox Video ultimately closed down five years after I first saw Freaked, I purchased the exact VHS copy of the film I had rented countless times. It remains one of my most valuable possessions.

Jamé McCraw is a current student at DCH and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.

Three Books for Comedy Nerds with Depression

Humorous Depression Books I'm a career book nerd—started as a library assistant in high school, went on to become a Borders retail kid, and now my current job involves working with older books. I like to consider myself a reader, but I've become extremely picky with the things I read. Especially humor, which is probably the most difficult thing to convey in written word. Like Shakespeare, humor is at its best when it's performed.

Then again, can you really enjoy a book about mental illness that is written without any humor? I have depression and anxiety, but I can still laugh at a good joke. And when the joke lands in print, that's the work of someone who understands themselves as well as their comedic voice.

I've found three memoirs-slash-personal essay collections that meet my unrealistically high standards for both humor and authenticity. They've made me laugh, cry, and forced me into epiphanies for underlying issues. If you're looking for a book club pick that will embrace your need for weird and honest, consider any of these.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

If you aren't aware of Hyperbole and a Half, you are probably new to the Internet. Although the blog is a barren wasteland now due to her up-and-coming writing career and her latest book coming out this summer, Hyperbole and a Half's print companion includes some of the blog's most popular posts as well as a few newer ones. Brosh's two-part "Adventures in Depression" is included in the print version, chronicling her perspective on what it's like to experience depression and explaining it in such a bizarre yet nuanced way, involving dead fish. It sounds weird, and it is, but there's never been a more appropriate analogy for what I undergo at low points. Another favorite is a chapter not seen on her blog entitled "Identity," which I won't spoil here. I actually want you to read these, guys.

Furiously Happy by Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson

I'm a fan of The Bloggess, a blog run by fellow Texan lady Jenny Lawson. I would even say she inspired me to create a wishlist on Pinterest for taxidermy creatures of my own. (Napoleon Bonaparte mouse, you will be MINE someday.) Following her hilarious debut memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Furiously Happy delves a little bit deeper into what it's like to have a slew of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and a host of others. She writes about deeply touching moments where she walks out into the snow or has a conversation with her husband about how hard life is. And then there's the part where she goes to Australia and is determined to hold a koala while wearing a koala costume. This is literary gold, friends.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

My friend Sue recommended this book to me, saying that it hits points on mental illness as well as the fascinating life of actress and Internet entrepreneur, Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Geek and Sundry). Now, I don't believe in "serendipity" or anything like that, but reading this book at the time that I did was a bit of a wake-up call. During her chapter regarding the start-up of Geek and Sundry, a YouTube network dedicated to geeks and... their... sundries (words good at, I am!), Day describes the amount of stress she put herself under and how it affected her not only mentally but also physically. Then I recalled another friend of mine who was undergoing a similar situation, and we both joked about how she had "stress cancer," because that's how you get through hard times. As I ended that chapter, I turned to my husband and said, "I think I have stress cancer like Felicia Day did." But he was asleep because apparently I had been hardcore reading this book until 12 a.m.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

The Texts that Helped Me Teach Myself Improv

Improv Books No one on my college improv troupe coached or taught from a place of experience. In that way, the culture felt egalitarian. We were just 20 people that had accepted one another and formed a special-interest group. You’d participate in a long-form set once every three weeks, and in the interim, you’d give show notes and hop in for a closing game of “sex with.” It worked, but those of us with a more-than-casual interest weren’t satiated by table scraps of anecdotal knowledge.

Relative to troupe newcomers (who often had never done improv before), the elder statespersons had spent a couple years practicing once a week and had done maybe 25 shows if they were super active. We went to festivals where we’d talk to other improv nerds and occasionally take workshops from “professional” performers. We usually made the pilgrimage to improv Mecca during winter break to watch shows at iO and The Second City. While in Chicago, we’d hopefully land a two-hour slot with an ordained member of the establishment that would open our minds’ eyes wider than any campus practice could (Rachel Mason is a red priestess).

In the absence of a regularly-appearing comedy authority figure, excited nerds like myself turned to texts. Anyone who has fallen hard for improv has sought out some sort of reading material. I’ve learned a lot from name brand books and off-the-beaten-path works. This week, I want to synopsize and endorse(ish) the five texts that helped me develop my affinity for the dark arts before classes were a viable option.

Every theater has a different style of improv, and every individual performer at every theater has a different style, too. My goal here is to categorize the type of technique being pedaled, what I liked/disliked about the text, and what it has done for me as an improviser. Most of these texts you can find for around $10 on Amazon. The UCB book is $25 last time I checked.

Truth in Comedy, Halpern/Close/Johnson

For those who enjoy: Primary Colours, Cupcake, Dairy Based

Often the first text that new improvisers read, Truth in Comedy sells agreement and listening. (It also sells itself with constant references to iO alumni.) The work of Halpern, Close, and Johnson serves as a great introduction for those teaching themselves about improv. It’s heavy on “yes, and” and promotes a grounded, committed style of play. It also offers plenty of exercises that can be morphed into group games in a show (a la “conducted story” or “the ad game”). The book’s organic focus helps to stoke those group mind coals with which we all enjoy cooking. The end of the text also includes an introduction to the Harold for interested parties.

Improvise: Scene from the inside out, Mick Napier

For those who enjoy: Samurai Drunk, Kool Aid, Franzia

Napier staunchly rejects any notion of “the rules” when it comes to improvising. He asserts that taking care of yourself at the top of a scene is the best gift you can give your scene partner. The way he dispenses with the idea of “doing it right” can be a revelation for anyone stuck in their own head. By doing something, anything, at the top of a scene, you’ve chosen to act rather than marinate in the fear of the unknown. Napier also adds a lot of great exercises you can do on your own to develop your improv mind. I should note that a misinterpretation of Improvise can lead players to bulldoze or ignore the ideas of others. I would recommend it as an intermediate text, rather than an initial foray into improv reading.

Impro, Keith Johnstone

For those who enjoy: Local Honey, Age Appropriate, Release the Hounds

Impro was written before improvisation had become a popular medium. Johnstone used improv techniques and games with his students to get them to loosen up. His observations and life experiences create a rich well from which to pull little improv mantras. I especially have enjoyed his sections about status and spontaneity. You’ll see people raising and lowering their own status in every single social interaction you have after reading Impro. Those two sections in particular pair well with Improvise, for those looking to go on a reading spree. Also, there’s a weird section about masks at the end that’s kind of fun to skim through, if not totally helpful.

The UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual, Besser/Roberts/Walsh

For those who enjoy: Photobomb, The Rift, 1995 Chicago Bulls, Wheel of Formats

Totaling 384 pages, this text earns its label as a manual. Consider the UCB book a longer and more comprehensive version of Truth in Comedy, but for game-oriented improv. The authors focus on how to recognize patterns and play games more so than establish relationships in scenes. By serving the game, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. The UCB manual comes complete with loads of exercises and color illustrations. Format guidelines in the book’s final section offer great ideas for fledgling troupes looking to create a style of their own. The UCB manual has especially salient takes on heightening/exploration and crazy town. As a warning, the text is pretty analytical and can put you in your head if you’re not tempering it or discussing it with someone else.

True and False, David Mamet

For those who enjoy: Small Town, Manick, David and Terry

David Mamet doesn’t agree with Konstantin Stanislavsky. I’ve never read that guy’s books, but apparently they make acting seem like a highfaluting, elitist pursuit. Mamet instead distills acting into a simple approach: Know your lines, don’t add to them, and say them with a loud voice so that the audience can hear you. The accessibility is a relief for those of us who didn’t grow up in the theater. I’ve never considered myself an actor. I have no formal acting training. This is a great book for anyone who looks at acting as a wholly separate and mystical art form too lofty for the mind and abilities of an improviser. Plus, Mamet’s writing is just plain fun to read.

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

Podcast Rec No. 9: The JV Club

The JV Club I enjoy a lot of women-hosted podcasts. Probably because I’m a woman who podcasts, but that’s a bias that can be left at the door. The problem with a lot of them is that they aren’t as personal as I would prefer them to be. They’re more fact-based without the personal experience that goes along with it. Sometimes they don’t even research or interview others with that very experience. (I’m looking at you, Stuff Mom Never Told You episode about infertility! So many missed opportunities to promote women’s health! Grrrrr...these emotional lemons are bitter...)

This is why I love The JV Club with Janet Varney. One of the many podcasts in the Nerdist Industries Network, actress Janet Varney (Avatar: The Legend of Korra) sits down with lady creatives and discusses their more awkward years as kids through to their young adult years. Nothing is off the table in these interviews, and they are funny, touching, and sincere like nothing else. Men get their chance to discuss their pimple-plagued years during The JV Club’s “Boys of Summer” series, and it is revealed that almost none of the male guests know the song that the sub-series title references.

And every interview then ends with a game of MASH! Do you remember MASH? Not the TV show, the game. It stands for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House? It’s a silly fortune-telling game played in grade school—trust me, it’s great. Come find me at DCH one day, we’ll play it.

Recommended episode: "Felicia Day."

Felicia Day is probably the grand duchess of all things nerdy. She’s made a career for herself as an actress in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and various commercial gigs, but her breakthrough moment in entertainment happened with her web series The Guild as well as playing Penny in everyone’s favorite Internet musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She has gone on to create the popular YouTube channel "Geek & Sundry" and appeared as recurring character Charlie in recent seasons of Supernatural.

In her JV Club interview, promoting her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Day discusses what many would consider an unusual life. Topics range from being a military kid, how homeschooling benefitted her development, and starting her college years at age 16! She also reveals a few of her neuroses that almost challenge my own. The keyword here being “almost”...

Running time for each episode: Approximately 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.