A Kansas native, Frank Benge has been involved in the Austin area theatre scene as a Director, Designer, Writer and Performer for the past 20 years. He holds a double BA in Theatre and English from Washburn University.
Set in a drug study lab at Rauschen Pharmaceuticals, where volunteers are taking the experimental antidepressant RLU37; THE EFFECT, a new play by Lucy Prebble, examines two couples and the effects this new drug has on them. The play is not only a powerful and darkly funny indictment of Big Pharma, this ultimately deeply moving play examines such topics as sanity and neurology while also looking into such ideas as fate, and touching on the inevitability of physical attraction in a closed environment. The final question you are left with is who is really in charge of your destiny. Is it you or is it your brain? Prebble has written a very intelligent play that manages quite successfully to walk the thin line between comic and tragic. She is looking squarely at the question of what makes us who we are. This is black comedy of the highest order which requires skilled performers and a skilled director to pull off successfully. Happily, this production has those necessities in spades.BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Is Great Witty Tuneful Fun June 1, 2017
SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a musical comedy with a book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Set in 1595, it tells the story of the Bottom brothers, Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel (Pierce Cassedy), and their struggle to produce a show that isn't overshadowed by their contemporary William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). The show opened on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for multiple Tony Awards and ran for 745 performances. This touring production launched earlier this year.BWW Review: BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME is a One Of A Kind Sensory Experience May 30, 2017
NYC theatre company Aztec Economy teams with Austin theatre company Theatre Synesthesia to present Casey Wimpee's play BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME in this Austin premiere production. Directed by Leah Bonvissuto, who directed the original NY production, the play is a seventy five minute sensory experience about five coal miners who are trapped in a cave in. Set in 1973, West Virginia, BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME, is a startling look at the male psyche-in-crisis. As these five coal miners struggle to overcome a dwindling supply of oxygen and the lack of food and water, it becomes clear that the biggest obstacles they face are their own competing natures. Director Bonvissuto has done a masterful job here of creating an immersive event.BWW Review: Chanel Impresses as Billie Holiday in LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL April 10, 2017
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL is a play with music by Lanie Robertson, recounting key events in the life of Billie Holiday. The play originally premiered in 1986 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, and soon played Off-Broadway. The play opened on Broadway in 2014. The play covers the same legendary Holiday stories that were in Lady Sings the Blues as anecdotal memories related by the singer during her act.BWW Review: PERFECT MENDACITY a Dark Delight April 10, 2017
It's the rare person who has never told a lie. Who hasn't pondered whether you could train yourself to beat a lie detector? What situation would bring you to lie? Would you lie if saving yourself or your loved one was at stake? Is it possible to craft a perfect lie? In Jason Wells' PERFECT MENDACITY the playwright investigates the realities surrounding deception when a corporate scientist tries to avoid implication after a sensitive memo has been leaked. He has engaged a professional to help him escape implication during his lie detector investigation. Wells' tale of corporate espionage, lies and cover ups, where the past comes back to haunt you as your personal and professional lives collide is darkly funny in all the best ways.BWW Interview: Benjamin Summers of StreetCorner Arts April 6, 2017
BroadwayWorld recently asked ZACH Theatre's guest director Michael Rader, in town to direct the Austin Premiere of LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL, to give our readers a little background on him and the production, which runs April 5-30 on the Topher Stage.BWW Review: UNDERGROUND a Taut Psychological Political Thriller March 27, 2017
UNDERGROUND, a taut new psychological and political thriller by Lisa B. Thompson, is currently in its World Premiere production at The VORTEX. UNDERGROUND examines African American activists, artists, and intellectuals and how they have responded from the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond. The play takes a head-on look at where we are in the long fight for equality in our current political climate and what survival may look like over the next four years and beyond. This is an unflinching look at the possible aftermath of the appointment of white supremacists to high-ranking positions in the executive branch. This two person drama is set in the very near future and flashes backto their first encounter. At the core, UNDERGROUND asks the question: how far would you go to protect your people?BWW Review: MRS. MANNERLY is a Sweetly Comic Story of Youth March 27, 2017
MRS. MANNERLY, a memory play by Jeffrey Hatcher, takes inspiration from the playwright's memories of a childhood etiquette class that he took at the tender young age of ten. Walking with an etiquette book balanced on your head, learning complex table settings with a confounding array of flatware and stemware, and dropping a quarter in a jar each time you interrupt...those were the ways of Mrs. Mannerly's classes in 1967. Mrs. Mannerly (Jennifer Underwood) has high standards; so high, in fact, that not one student in her thirty-six years of teaching proper deportment has ever achieved perfection. Young Jeffrey (Suzanne Balling) wants to be the first and he has a trick up his sleeve that he thinks makes him a shoe-in to achieve that sought after goal... he has discovered Mrs. Mannerly has a secret past.BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL Is A Stylish Evening of Wit and Musical Memories March 23, 2017
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is a jukebox musical that tells the story of the early life and career of Carole King with a book by Douglas McGrath, using songs that she wrote, often together with Gerry Goffin, and other contemporary songs by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector and others. The original production received its world premiere in San Francisco in October of 2013, and made its Broadway debut at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in January 2014. This U.S. touring production now at Bass Concert Hall launched in September 2015.BWW Review: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL'S OVO at HEB Center In Cedar Park is Family Friendly Thrills and Laughs March 17, 2017
Cirque du Soleil's OVO, currently playing at the HEB Center in Cedar Park is an immersive family friendly evening of acrobatic thrills wrapped up is a sweet and funny clown bug love story. The show is a look at an insect ecosystem teeming with life. The acrobats are dressed as insects and the acts, which are tied together by the clowns storylines of looking for the egg and the lady bug's suitors, results in a non-stop story of insects working, playing, fighting and looking for love. Among the exciting visuals in this fast paced dazzler of an entertainment are foot jugglers who, as ants, juggle gigantic kiwi fruit and ears of corn; trampoline artists dressed crickets leaping off and on a high wall; a silk artist who uses the silks to show a butterfly transforming from cocoon state and trapeze artists in a stunning aerial act. Along the way is also a beautiful and graceful dragonfly hand balancing act and a hilarious moment with a caterpillar.BWW Review: JOHN Is A Dark Comedic Gem March 13, 2017
JOHN, a new play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Annie Baker, is now receiving a Southwest Premiere production at Hyde Park Theatre, under the direction of Ken Webster. The production is so exceptional on so many multiple levels that I am likely to wear out my thesaurus. This is not the first play by Baker that Hyde Park Theatre has produced. Earlier this season, they presented The Flick, and they have, in the past, produced Circle Mirror Transformation, The Aliens and Body Awareness. Webster clearly has an affinity for her work and Austin is all the richer for it.BWW Review: A GIRL NAMED SUE is Sweet and Savory Must See Theatre March 10, 2017
There is a lot of original theatre that happens here in Austin and it spans the gamut in terms of quality. A GIRL NAMED SUE, a new play by Christine Hoang, now in its World Premiere production in the Trinity Street Theatre, is among the best in terms of both quality and execution. Ms. Hoang has crafted a funny, witty and touching play that examines intercultural and interracial relationships all set in the world of coffee house collegiate culture. It manages to deliver a powerful message without ever being high handed or preachy. It does what all good theatre must do first and foremost: entertain.BWW Review: Beautifully Sung WEST SIDE STORY February 20, 2017
WEST SIDE STORY is historically one of the most important of American musicals, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Its conception as a heavy dance piece came from original choreographer and director Jerome Robbins and is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The show also marked Sondheim's Broadway debut. With its dark subject matter, focusing on social problems, and sophisticated score, the show was a turning point in American Musical Theatre. Bernstein's score includes 'Something's Coming', 'Maria', 'Somewhere', 'Tonight', 'I Feel Pretty', and 'One Hand, One Heart', all of which have become part of the Great American Songbook. The original production was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1957. It was turned into a film in 1961, ultimately winning ten Oscars, including Best Picture.BWW Interview: Katherine Catmull on SISTER OF SHATTERING GLASS February 13th Deadline February 8, 2017
Young Adult novelist and actress Katerine Catmull has teamed up with Physical Plant Theatre to create SISTER OF SHATTERING GLASS, an adventure story told entirely with text messages. The adventure follows Catmull's characters Summer and Bird in a race to the center of a dark maze located behind the mirrors of the world, where a being born from reflections and fractures threatens to devour the maze from within - including the two sisters and every bird on earth. People who join up for the adventure will take the role of father, receiving messages from the two daughters. The adventure is written by Catmull, featuring characters from her novel, Summer and Bird, and will feature photographs by Annie Gunn and sound design by Buzz Moran. The story unfolds gradually over the course of five months.
Broadway World recently had an opportunity to talk to Katherine Catmull to find out more about this unique and exciting new theatrical venture.BWW Review: TITLE OF SHOW A Charming Winner February 6, 2017
TITLE OF SHOW is a one-act musical, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell. The show is pretty much the Urban Dictionary definition of "meta". It not only chronicles its own creation as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, it also chronicles the struggles of the author and composer/lyricist as they create a musical about creating a musical. It's sort of like those endlessly reflective fun house mirrors. TITLE OF SHOW was chosen for production by the Musical Theatre Festival and premiered there, in September 2004. It later transferred to Off-Broadway in 2006, picking up three Obie Awards, and finally made it to Broadway later that same year, where it was nominated for Best Book of a Musical. In this production by Austin Theatre Project, the show has been reconfigured as two acts with no noticeable difference for the audience.BWW Review: Paper Chairs Presents World Premiere HOT BELLY February 6, 2017
HOT BELLY, a new play by Diana Lynn Small, is receiving a rolling world-premiere between paper chairs, happening first here in Austin, and then by the NYC/Chicago based company, The Syndicate. While Small has been a frequent paper chairs collaborator, this is the company's first time to produce one of her plays. It is also the first play ever produced in The Austin Public, a media and film studio on Austin's East side. The venue works as a perfect setting for this play which exists between live television and a daydream.BWW Review: THR3E ZISTERS Is In Your Face Brilliance February 6, 2017
THR3E ZISTERS by Baltimore-based playwright Lola Pierson was conceived and directed by Yury Urnov of D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth and was first mounted by Salvage Vanguard Theatre in 2015. That smash hit is currently receiving a remount at The Off Center. The original production won 4 Austin Critics Table Awards including Best Production of a Comedy. The show is part modern adaption of Chekhov's Three Sisters and part critique of Chekhov's work along with fresh literal translations of the original Russian text. It is also a bold criticism of the intrinsic conflicts of producing classical theatre in contemporary times. For good measure, THR3E ZISTERS spends a little time analyzing the transitioning roles of gender and performance in contemporary culture.BWW Review: THE GREAT SOCIETY A Stirring Tonic For Our Time January 30, 2017
THE GREAT SOCIETY, Robert Schenkkan's conclusion to the epic tale he began with All The Way, examines the remainder of LBJ's term as president and the turbulent years of the Johnson White House. It made its debut in 2014 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is now receiving its Texas debut at Zach Theatre. This tempestuous time in American history is presented in a highly theatrical and stirring way that resonates deeply with our current times. While there are some subtle and clever riches that only those who saw All The Way will appreciate, THE GREAT SOCIETY stands on its own as a richly rewarding evening of theatre and history. The play opens where All The Way ended, with Johnson having just been elected to a full presidential term, and facing a multitude of problems. What resonates so strongly today is that, despite the ills Johnson fought with legislation designed to make this country a better place for all, these ills remain dishearteningly persistent in the here and now, despite his cagily and cannily achieved successes.BWW Review: A PERFECT ROBOT Is a Multilayer World Premiere Marvel January 23, 2017
Sarah Saltwick's new play, A PERFECT ROBOT, now in its World Premiere production at The Vortex, is a smart, witty and engaging examination of some familiar themes. At the core, this is a look at the question of the creation of sentience and control. If you create something with free will, can you be certain that what you have created will choose you?