Theater Review - Pushing forward

Multimedia events celebrate PushPush's fifth anniversary

For five years, PushPush Theater has been one of Atlanta's most eagerly edgy theater companies, with its name evoking the troupe's drive to push the envelopes of acting and drama. But Tim Habeger, the theater's artistic director, points out that PushPush's goals aren't necessarily confined to stage plays. "More and more of the people we work with have multiple interests, so we're always thinking of new ways to collaborate," he says.

PushPush's fifth anniversary celebration "Spring Forward" can be compared to a month-long potluck supper, only with a diversity of performance pieces brought by musicians, filmmakers and spoken-word artists, as well as theatrical writers, directors and actors.

"Spring Forward" includes readings of two new plays by local playwrights. Rob Nixon's Heartbreak, held March 18, is a comedy loosely patterned after Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House and set on the north Florida coast. On March 24, a reading will be held of Karen Wurl's Miss Macbeth, which depicts a grad school actress willing to kill to play Lady Macbeth.

A children's performance of David Mamet's Revenge of the Space Pandas will be held the week of March 23. But adults only are welcome when PushPush invites Sensurround Stagings to present The Wide Open Beaver Festival March 27-30. Conceived by Sensurround artistic associates Justin Welborn and Berny Clark as response to and parody of "gender-centric" works like "The Man Show" and The Vagina Monologues, Beaver promises a comic ensemble of cheerleaders, Neanderthals, frogmen, cigarette girls and a guy in a beaver suit.

Parts of "Spring Forward" use theater as a springboard to explore other media. For instance, in the project "Dailies," three local film companies — Dulcinea, POP Films and Eyekiss Films — will each be given a copy of Murray Mednick's edgy play Tirade for Three (staged by PushPush in 2000). Working separately with different actors, each group will have three days to film their own conceptions of the work, with the finished products to be shown at PushPush March 18, in addition to other short plays by each of the companies.

Some local theater artists will display other talents during the festival. Bryan Mercer, Julie Dansby and Clint Thornton comprise NOVA Performance Company Cabaret, and perform their Liza-Minelli-meets-Tom-Waits act March 24. Eugene Russell (recently seen in 7 Stages' Hush) brings his jazz/funk band One Point Spread March 11 and March 23, while the Cory Jones Band will perform its blend of blues and rock March 16.

All musical events will follow the evening's theatrical production, or, in the case of March 11, "Say Somethin' For Real!" an "audience-driven" spoken-word event hosted by actor-comedian Rob Cleveland in which the performers sit in the seats with the spectators.

Parts of "Spring Forward" revisit favorite works and writers from the theater's five-year history. The weekends of March 7-16 will feature "Tennessee Williams in Brief," a reprise of sorts of the theater's Williams Short Play Festival of 1998. "We've been seeing a lot of new audience members lately, so this is a good in for them," says Habeger, drawing a distinction between Williams and the more experimental writers the theater frequently enjoys. "Throwing Murray Mednick at them might be too much for first-timers."

Habeger directs A Streetcar Named Desire March 21-23, a kind of revision of his production for the Shakespeare Tavern last year, "somewhat reworked" but also starring Dikran Tulaine, Agnes Harty and Patricia French. Streetcar also will be part of The Big Sea Theater Festival, a collaboration between PushPush and the Golden Isles Arts and Humanities Association, held April 1-7 in Brunswick, with Horizon Theatre and Dad's Garage also participating.

For the Williams works, PushPush is dismantling a portion of the theater's comfy "lounge-around" seating to permit the construction of more traditional sets. "It was an interesting format to have, but we're eager to go back to shows that have more of a design element," says Habeger. The rest of the theater's season features work by women playwrights Kim Brundridge, Beth Henley, Lisa Schlesinger and Naomi Wallace.

Habeger finds learning experiences in everything the theater has done. "Some shows, like Murray Mednick's 16 Routines, have been very exciting for us, but haven't spoken to the audience as clearly, and we don't want our work to be that exclusive," says Habeger. But he acknowledges, "I think the mistakes have been as interesting as the successes."

"Spring Forward" continues throughout March 30 at PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. Call 404-892-7876 for show times, dates and ticket prices. www.pushpushtheater.com.??

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