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.
Coming in March, The Baron's Men will be presenting the rarely performed The Curate Shakespeare AS YOU LIKE at the Curtain Theatre. This unique piece of theatre is subtitled 'the record of one company's attempt to perform the play by William Shakespeare.' The piece came about when the playwright, Don Nigro, was asked by a professional theatre company to adapt AS YOU LIKE IT for performance by a company of seven. Mr. Nigro wrote an original play about a motly company of actors, led by a daft curate, who present Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT. The result is a comedy about their attempts to impersonate all of Shakespeare's characters. The play has had numerous productions nationwide and has become a cult theater classic.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with director Kate Clark for a deeper look at bringing this wholly unique piece to Austin audiences.BWW Review: NOISES OFF First-Rate, Fast, Furiously Funny Farce February 18, 2018
NOISES OFF, English playwright Michael Frayn's 1982 farce, had its start as a one-act play called Exits, written in 1977. The title comes from the theatrical stage direction used to indicate when a sound comes from offstage. The three act comedy is three looks at the first act of a British sex farce called 'Nothing On'. 'Nothing On' is your run of the mill sex farce where young girls run around in their underwear, old men drop their pants and a multitude of doors are constantly opening and closing. Act One is the less than perfect final technical rehearsal of the play. Act Two takes place backstage, during a matinee performance a month later, showing the audience the complete chaos that has erupted behind the scenes and is mostly done in silence. Act Three is the final performance of the tour where everything that can possibly go wrong does. The audience never sees the rest of 'Nothing On'.BWW Review: Cirque du Soleil's CRYSTAL A Visual Frozen Treat February 16, 2018
Cirque du Soleil's CRYSTAL: A Breakthrough Ice Experience is their first show to marry their traditional acrobats and clowns with world-class ice skaters and the end result surpasses their usual offerings with a new kind of show. The show is a beautiful combination of skating and aerial work that takes your breath away time and again as the lead character is lifted, with a single hand, and taken aloft, for a ballet of movement far above the ice. Crystal and her partner perform a spellbinding aerial straps/skating pas de deux that blurs the boundary between ice and sky.BWW Review: DEATH BY DESIGN Done In By Deadly Pace February 12, 2018
Playwright Rob Urbinati had a clever idea with DEATH BY DESIGN: Take the sophisticated and witty banter of the characters of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde and drop them into the middle of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. In order for all of this to work, he wrote it as a farce. Edward Bennett (Bill Clausen), a playwright, and his actress wife, Sorel (Ashleigh Pedersen) have just had a disastrous opening night and they've escaped London to hunker down in their country digs, only to have their peace shattered by the arrival of one unexpected screwball guest after another. When one of the guests is murdered, the manor's maid is determined to solve the crime.BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME Dazzles in ZACH Texas Premiere February 7, 2018
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is a 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon. The novel won the Whitbread Book Award for Best Novel and Book of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. The title is a quote from Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story 'Silver Blaze'. The play, by Simon Stephens, is a significant reworking of the source material. While the novel presented the story in first-person narrative, the play is presented as a reading of Boone's writing, read aloud by his teacher, Siobhan (Katie Kohler). The end result is that the play is presented as a beautifully theatrical play-within-a-play, both wonderfully self-aware and playful.
Set in Swindon and London, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is about a 15-year-old amateur detective named Christopher Boone (Preston Straus) who is also a mathematical genius. He appears to have an unspecified autism spectrum disorder which is never explicitly stated in the play. The curious incident of the title is the mystery surrounding the death of a neighbor's dog, Wellington, found by Christopher, speared by a pitchfork. Christopher is exceptionally intelligent, but ill-equipped to deal with everyday life. His quest to solve the mystery takes him far beyond where he ever thought he could go, becoming a lesson on life and self reliance. Winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best New Play, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, is now receiving a Texas premiere at ZACH Theatre, in a marvelously inventive production that immerses the audience into the sensory overload of Christopher's world.BWW Review: 893 | YA-KU-ZA An Intriguing Look Into Crime Syndicate World January 31, 2018
Set over the course of a business lunch in a Japanese restaurant in an undisclosed U.S. locale, 893 | YA-KU-ZA follows Aya's (Mia King) bid to become the first female member of the infamous Japanese crime syndicate. A meeting has been arranged with a man known only as 1 (kt shorb) to discuss bringing Aya on board and what 1 expects from her. Daria Miyeko Marinelli's new play explores the themes of ambition, power, and loyalty, by asking what it means to be first and then examining what one is willing to do to get there.BWW Review: IF I FORGET a Riveting Look at a Family in Crisis January 23, 2018
IF I FORGET is the newest play by Steven Levenson, best known as the librettist for the smash hit musical Dear Evan Hanson. It is currently receiving a Texas premiere in a smart and stylish production from SouthwestFINDING NEVERLAND - CANCELLED Tue, Jan 16th January 16, 2018
Director Don Toner first directed Mark Harelik's THE IMMIGRANT 28 years ago. Happily for Austin, he and Austin Playhouse have decided to restage this charming, inspiring and touching tale for a new generation. THE IMMIGRANT is based on the true story of Harelik's grandfather, a young Russian-Jewish man who entered America through the port of Galveston. Set in Hamilton, Texas (a tiny town with a population of 1,203, no Jews) Haskell Harelik (Joseph Garlock) begins life in America with only a hand pushed fruit cart and a mere smattering of English words at his disposal. It is his gentle spirit and hard work that touches the heart of the local banker and his wife to win him a helping hand. Milton (Huck Huckaby) and Ima Perry (Cyndi Williams) offer him a place to live and eventually, financial help from Milton. With their help, Haskell finally saves up enough money to open a store and send for his wife, Leah (Estrella Saldana). Since the original World Premiere production, directed here in Austin by Toner, Harelik has also adapted the show into a chamber musical.BWW Review: The Stage Austin's WENDY AND MICHELLE SERVE IT UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS Returns For Two XMAS HANGOVER Shows December 30 December 26, 2017
WENDY AND MICHELLE SERVE IT UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS is a fun and tune filled cabaret evening with more than a little singing. A clever comedic hodge podge from Michelle Cheney and Wendy Zavaleta who, dressed in matching shimmering blue cocktail dresses, serve up holiday cabaret fabulousness. This evening of cabaret entertainment touches on everything from re-gifting to navigating office holiday parties and even shopping overload with tongue often firmly planted in cheek.BWW Review: Rob Nash's HOLY CROSS SUCKS Both Hilarious and Heartwarming December 20, 2017
HOLY CROSS SUCKS! is Rob Nash's solo show that is a combination of four earlier separate plays: Freshman Year Sucks!, Sophomore Slump, Junior Blues and Senioritis. All of these earlier plays made their premiere at The Vortex between 1997 and 2000. HOLY CROSS SUCKS! played Off-Broadway in New York in 2005 where it was the recipient of a top ten award from Time Out New York magazine. Based on Nash's time at a Jesuit high school in Texas, HOLY CROSS SUCKS! is a hilarious and heartwarming look back at the 1980's. By combining the four earlier plays into one work, Nash has created a touchingly funny coming of age story of three friends that is rich in detail and made even more memorable by Nash's lightning fast character changes. Nash plays a grand total of 29 characters in the course of two hours making each character distinctly different all the way down to body language in a performance that is frankly remarkable.BWW Review: DRY LAND Is a Flawed But Savage Portrait of Female Teenaged Life December 12, 2017
DRY LAND is play by Ruby Rae Spiegel that concerns a seventeen year old high school girl who is exploring options for ending her unwanted pregnancy. With the right to choose being part of the current war on women that unfolds daily in our political arena, this subject matter is both timely and a story that needs to be told. Spiegel's play pulls no punches and features dialogue that offers the authentic voice of young women; however, the script has some flaws that when not handled properly, stick out and call attention to themselves and the holes in the story. In this inaugural production from Permanent Record Theatre, director Marian Kansas has given the audience some powerful and riveting moments; but, as a whole, the flaws in the script kept the evening from hanging together.BWW Review: POCATELLO - Defining a Family in Shifting Times December 10, 2017
POCATELLO is a 2014 play from acclaimed playwright and MacArthur Fellow Samuel D. Hunter, that takes a darkly comedic look at the need for interaction and connection in an increasingly homogenized America. In a time when corporate stores are wiping out the uniqueness and the differences that separated one place from another, this play asks the possibly unanswerable question: 'How did I get here'? Samuel D. Hunter's Idaho is the locale for this unflinching look into the changing landscape of middle America, and the flawed, yet real, people trying desperately to define what makes a home when you're standing on shifting ground. His play is naturalistic in nature, reminding one of the domestic dramas of Kansan William Inge. If you aren't sure of what this kind of place looks like, (since Austin still has it's mantra to 'keep weird'), take a short drive up IH-35 to Temple and look around. I challenge you to find something that isn't a chain store.BWW Review: Dickens Meets 'Glee' in ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A ROCKIN' FAMILY MUSICAL December 9, 2017
Who doesn't know the story of Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol'? The story is drummed into our heads every holiday season from the moment we're able to process speech. The story has been adapted a staggering number of times for film, stage, opera, and other media. 'A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas', is most commonly known simply as 'A Christmas Carol' and was first published in 1843 with that first edition selling out by Christmas Eve. Remarkably, it has never been out of print and by the end of the first year, thirteen editions had been released. It has been translated into several languages. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Harvey Guion), an old miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley (Roderick Sanford) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Kenny Williams), Present (Chanel), and Yet to Come (Roderick Sanford). Their visits transform Scrooge into a kinder and gentler man.BWW Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE A Delightfully Near Perfect Musical Treat December 8, 2017
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is a parody of 20's musicals with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It is a show within a show told by a middle-aged, asocial Broadway musical fan, known only as Man in Chair (Scott Shipman). Seeking to cure his 'non-specific sadness', he listens to a rare recording of the fictitious 1928 musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he listens to this cast recording, the characters appear in his crowded, tiny apartment, and it is transformed into an impressive Broadway set with footlights, period furniture, painted backdrops, shiny drapes and glitzy costumes. Man in Chair provides a running commentary throughout the show from the stage, and although he is onstage with the characters, he is invisible to the players. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE debuted in 1998 in Toronto and opened on Broadway in 2006. The show won five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards. It is a loving valentine to a time when shows had only the barest of plots serving to showcase the songs.BWW Review: World Premeire THE BRUTES Looks At Lost History Of The Booth Family December 5, 2017
Casey Wimpee's new play, THE BRUTES, opens in 1861 and is set in 1864. It is a look at the storied theatrical family, the Booths. It examines not only John Wilkes Booth and his plans to assassinate President Lincoln, but also the people, known as Brutes, who conspired along with him in sympathy for the South. The play looks at the reasons John Wilkes was propelled to a destiny that would wipe his families history from popular memory.BWW Interview: Aaron Johnson and His New Play SALTY World Premiere Scheduled For Spring in New York December 5, 2017
Aaron Johnson is best known to Austin audiences for his strong body of performances, including Tribes (Daniel) at ZACH Theatre; Orphans (Phillip), Skylight (Edward) with Street Corner Arts; The Totalitarians (Ben) with Theatre en Bloc; The Real Thing (Billy), The Explorers Club (Lucius), Bloomsday (Robbie) at Austin Playhouse; and Comedy of Errors (Antipholus of Syracuse & Ephesus) with Penfold Theatre Co. Aaron was able to find a home in many of these theatre companies producing, designing, and working crew when he wasn't acting, and is still collaborating from afar with several of them. Earlier this year, Aaron's one-man show The Apple Doesn't Fall was awarded 'Best of Fest' at the 2017 FronteraFest. Aaron moved to New York City earlier this year and his new play, SALTY, will hold its world premiere with Lyra Theater next Spring .BWW Review: THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING Gets Thoughtful Loving Production November 27, 2017
THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING was a 1946 novel by Southern writer Carson McCullers. It took her five years to complete, although she did interrupt the writing for a few months to write the short novel The Ballad of the Sad Caf . The novel has been adapted for the stage, motion pictures, and television. McCullers herself adapted the novel for the Broadway stage in 1950. The film version followed in 1952 and a stage musical version, F. Jasmine Addams, was produced Off-Broadway in 1971. The work examines why people exclude others and the resulting consequences. The central figures also talk about how they wish the world was more fluid and changeable in terms of race, gender and identity, all of which runs thematically through McCullers body of work.BWW Review: Jennifer Coy Jennings Dazzles in WILD HORSES November 19, 2017
Allison Gregory's WILD HORSES is a wickedly funny examination of the heady early teenage years. It is a stunning one woman monologue about the struggle for identity, independence and authenticity. It delves deeply into youth's search to find where and how you fit in a complicated world. Set in the 70's, the play is about one summer that forever alters an adolescent girl, as related by her grown-up self. This is related as a complex bar story and yet is essentially timeless. WILD HORSES is a coming-of-age story for all genders and generations. This production is the 72nd Rolling World Premiere of the National New Play Network, an alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development, production, and continued life of new plays. WILD HORSES has already been produced in West Virginia and New York and will finish in New Jersey after the Austin production.BWW Review: THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND Celebrates the Songs of Kander and Ebb November 18, 2017
THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND is an award winning musical revue showcasing the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb. It won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical Revue. The revue takes its title from a tune the songwriting team wrote for Liza Minnelli to sing in the film New York, New York. The revue features a combination of upbeat, unfamiliar songs from the team's lesser known musicals: The Happy Time, The Rink, The Act, Flora the Red Menace, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 70 Girls 70, and others as well as their two blockbuster hits Cabaret and Chicago. The show is an eclectic collection of love songs, ballads, and witty comedic numbers.