The Alley: Where the Beast Lives by Christina Nguyen

615 Texas Avenue
Houston, Texas 77002
(713) 228-8421
November 2010

April 2004–He spoke with infinite patience, the slender brown haired man, to hundreds of students in the filled auditorium, and by the way he spoke with that eagerness and softness, you could tell that he was teaching about a subject that he felt passionately for with everything in him. Professor Prior was not up there for the sake of being up there. Oh no, far from it. Professor Prior was up there to ignite his passion for a worthy art form to young minds that only wanted a few more hours of sleep. As he gradually proceeded down the syllabus, he told us that during the course it would be mandatory for everyone to go and see three plays.

Approval crept through, as I sat layered between my two childhood friends. I had wanted to do this for a while, anyway. He read off several productions that would be suitable. At the calling of Topdog/Underdog, Doris , clutched my arm and gushed that we must see that one. Her enthused insistence caused my curiosity to form, which of course lead to great expectations. I shrugged with indifference. Courtney would also be apart of our theatergoing experience.

Directions. Timings. Prices. All these mundane detail was researched for impatient hours with flawless accuracy and the help of the Internet. Our team would carpool together on the given Sunday night. All cringed at the price of forty dollars a seat. Professor Prior informed us that if we were interested in volunteering to usher, the charge was free, and we would be allowed to see the performance. The proposal was attractive, but there was another opportunity. If we brought a group of ten or more it would only cost around eleven dollars and some cents.

Complications arose. Most of our peers were attending the show Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoon Doris was deep-frying fast food for shoppers at the mall, Courtney was filing papers at an eye doctor’s office, and it was a sworn duty for me to wash and fold laundry at my parents’ washateria. We could not rally together enough bodies on Sunday night… outrage! Nevertheless, an informant that worked at the Alley told us that by arriving an hour before the play, we could take advantage of the Student Rush discount of twelve dollars. Our little trio nodded our heads vigorously at this opportunity… I wondered, “How many more of these discounts were there?” After the show I learned that if you came in at the time of the show and there were neglected seats, they were yours for the taking.

Driving around downtown Houston , you are bound to pass through the proud Theater District’s 17-block area visited by more than two million people a year. There are eight world-class performing arts organizations, a 130,000 square-foot Bayou Place entertainment complex, restaurants, movie plazas and parks. This city is one of five in the United States that has permanent professional companies in opera, ballet, music and theater.

We eased into the impressive surroundings of swarming activity and parked in one of the garages. Making our way through unfamiliar doors, stairways and halls, we somehow emerged from underground into the glory of the performing beast’s body. This was where he ate. This was where he sang. This was where he danced. This was where he played all the roles that he wanted to on a historic stage that welcomed all. This was where he lived.

The chilled air was cutting through my naked face. Unpredictable wind flirted roughly with out of control hair that hid desperate eyes, and my ridiculous, six-inch black stiletto boots were a nuisance. To keep in pace with the others, I had to nearly run alongside them. They exclaimed at the trendy places as we franticly searched for the Alley, which is one of the oldest and most esteemed theater companies in America . It has been in the community since 1947, and the focal aims are to produce and showcase plays that are a wide series of classic, new and neglected plays to the broadest audience.

By the time we found it, I was limping from the throbbing in both of my screaming feet. More than an hour early for the show, and there was, surprisingly, not a single soul in line. We purchased our tickets from the uninterested man at the booth. I questioned the quality of our seating arrangements, and he told our party in a bored tone that they were the best that he could give us. I feared that this meant that they were really awful.

I was looking to fall into a chair, but my two companions wanted to explore the perimeter. I shuddered. Not wanting to be the assassin of adventure, I followed as they took in the sights. We stopped into the Angelika Film Center that let guests dine in the lobby’s restaurant before they saw their movie. The minutes soon died away as we chose to only observe the passer biers that appeared to typically be of the white middle class.

The pain had become overbearing to my every thought. We were to make our way back, and I expressed my concern gripping Doris ’ hand. She proclaimed that I was hurting her. They offered to carry me on one of their sturdy and capable backs, but I reluctantly declined after much deliberation. The lower hell of my body hated me for it and would be complaining the entire night.

Once again, we trudged up the stairs of the nine-towered castle-like building of modern-medieval structure. This time there were lines of people waiting to get tickets. I kind of had an urge to spread out on the red-carpeted floors and take a nap, but I moved on.

I expected the Neuhaus Arena Stage, where we were to be placed, to be immense in size, but the area was actually extremely quaint seating 296. The stage was, of course, the focal point of the room with rows of chairs sectioned on three of the four sides. The Alley, also, has the Large Stage that occupies 824. Stiff and elderly ushers made the task of getting into our correct seats unproblematic. Since we were in the last row, I figured we would have to squint until tears spilled over, but the distance was relatively easy on our viewing pleasure. An announcer came in full volume requesting for phones to be turned off, candy wrappers to be opened at the present time, viewers to be respectful of the actors, and so forth.

As the show started, the actor that emerged immediately caught my recognition. I finally concluded that I had seen him on the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as (what else?) a vampire up to no good. His name was K. Todd Freeman, and he was playing opposite another actor named David Rainey.

Right away, I understood why innocent children were not to view this particular show. It is not to be said that they were not permitted because they were seen as wild animals or anything in that nature. The play just simply contained “mature subject matter.” Profanity was being thrown left and right, like a shower of rice at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony. Dirty magazines that had completely naked, full-breasted women flooded out from under a twin-sized bed, as part of the set. References to sex were not censored to any standards. This was miles away from any school production that deleted, chopped and butchered art for the sake of decency.

Besides the “mature subject matter” meshed into the script for comic relief, the deeper story was powerfully somber. It had most of the elements of dramatic conflict: man vs. self, man vs. man, and man vs. society. The actors’ ability to bring forth the verisimilitude and realism of the scenes for the audience was undeniable. They were not the performers, Rainey and Freeman, playing the brothers Lincoln and Booth. They were Lincoln and Booth. The long dialogues got so intense at times, that I could see spit discharge from their mouths.

From the title, I already had an idea of what would be the fate of the two men pushing for survival in their world where everyone was against them, where even they were their own worse enemies. When the scene happened, though, actually happened? The scene in the play that everyone knew from the beginning would certainly take place and end that world? Everybody in that audience was still uncontrollably shaken as it materialized in front of us.

I felt like a jerk, a useless god watching. I knew what they were destined for and that I could not stop it but I still wanted to run onto that stage and cry out “Don’t do it! You still have a chance of redemption!” The saner part of me knew that they were just lines being read, but the better part of me still grieved for the damned shouting with anguish. I looked to the reaction of the old man across the stage from me. He was so alarmed that he cowered back into the willing arms of his wife.

It took a few moments for the murmur of that other reality to wear thin, as the lights came back on, and the actors were flooded in the praise of hands crashing together. The caged smell of chocolate candy bars became apparent without warning, and my appetite wrestled my thoughts back to the Alley. It has been here for more than half a century and continues to prosper from the ongoing encouragement and loyalty of artists and patrons.

Map


Links

Houston Theater District

Topdog/Underdog

Alley Theatre

History and Science of Acting

Angelika Film Center

Bio

So much can be learned if people took time out of their busy life schedule and experience The Alley Theatre.

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