Dallas’ Undermain Theatre’s latest dance-drama confronts what the COVID-19 pandemic has stolen from us all
When Undermain Theatre set out to find the next play to film for its audience stuck at home, a piece produced long before the pandemic by another Dallas company came to mind. Things Missing/Missed tells the partially true story of a couple whose strained relationship is further plagued when small household items begin disappearing from their home, a metaphor for the growing gaps in their feelings for one another.
“There is an abundance of episodic dramas on streaming services that will explore the fallout of COVID, with all the trimmings of real life,” Undermain associate artistic director Danielle Georgiou explains in an email interview. “I wanted something more, something mysterious, something oozing with the quiet sadness that underscored making the show itself.”
Justin Locklear, Georgiou’s personal and professional partner, conceived Things Missing/Missed with actor-directors Melissa Flower and Philip Hays of Houston, where it premiered in 2016. Flower and Hays played the exasperated lovers, who talk past one another. Then a hermit breaks into their house and starts stealing from them, giving new meaning to what’s missing from their relationship.
A year later, the “devised” work was revived at the downtown Dallas library by Georgiou and Locklear’s dance-theater troupe, the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. This new filmed version, co-produced by DGDG and Undermain, was shot at Undermain’s famed Deep Ellum basement space with Locklear in the cast and Georgiou adapting the script for the screen, directing and choreographing. It begins streaming on Jan. 13.
The powerhouse Dallas theater duo often draw inspiration from existing texts or stories, which they refashion into provocative, highly theatrical live performances for the stage. Though it’s in a different medium, Things Missing/Missed is the latest example. Locklear and his co-writers drew on two sources.
“The seed was originally formed by reacting to the poetic call of isolation in T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as well as the real-life choice by Christopher Knight to vacate society and seek the anonymity of living in nature,” Locklear writes by email. “Things Missing/Missed feeds off the different facets of loneliness and erasure found in each piece, and by the end a new perspective on these themes is revealed.”
Known as the “North Pond Hermit,” Knight retreated to the woods around the Belgrade Lakes in Maine in 1986 and didn’t resurface until he was arrested 27 years later. He survived by committing 1,000 burglaries of nearby camps and cabins. The fictional Prufrock is a similarly isolated character, disillusioned by modern life. His feelings of loneliness are expressed in an interior stream-of-consciousness monologue in Eliot’s first published poem.
Locklear and Danielle Georgiou Dance Group regulars William Acker, Elaina Alspach and Colby Calhoun take turns playing one half of the troubled, burglarized couple. Local filmmaker and Dallas Morning News contributor Christian Vasquez served as director of photography.
“I decided that this production shouldn’t encapsulate a single two-person relationship. Instead, the show obscures relationships as an expression of what we have experienced this year,” Georgiou writes. “The psychological effects on partnerships, friendships and familial connections have been bizarre and difficult, and this story feels like a perfect way to present those effects in a beautiful, tangible and unsettling way … We have a cast which for the most part has been living with one another. On top of the industry recommended routine of testing and regimented caution on set, their domestic situation has made the process much easier.”
Georgiou and Locklear are among the most prolific theater-makers and collaborators in North Texas.
She founded DGDG in 2011 to create multidisciplinary works that depict and comment on the limiting roles prescribed to women by society and to search for new paradigms. Nice, for example, took on Emily Post’s dictates on proper manners. In 2017, Georgiou became the in-house choreographer at Undermain and was named associate artistic director in 2019 by producing artistic director Bruce DuBose following the death of his wife, Undermain co-founder Katherine Owens.
Locklear is one of the core members of another Dallas avant-garde troupe, Ochre House Theater, where as artist-in-residence he acts, writes, directs, composes music and designs puppets. When other local groups are looking for help producing shows, many times the call goes out to one of them. This collaboration with Undermain was years in the making.
“When we were producing Things Missing/Missed in residence at the Dallas Public Library,” Georgiou recalls, “I felt like it was a perfect piece for the Undermain audience, but at the time I considered it an unlikely outcome. Kat and Bruce attended the production, and I think it created a better picture in their minds of who I was as a creator, and what kind of work my company was producing …
“As soon as I started digging back into the story, I was shocked by how perfect and evocative the piece would be for a 2020 audience. I think audiences will connect with the themes of isolation in a new way, and they will recognize themselves in the conflicts which arise when someone else is witness to your own self-concealment. While rehearsing, we laughed in catharsis of the burden of our new understanding. I can’t wait to share the careful portraits we’ve created, especially as I feel like I am all of them this year.”
Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and former staff critic at The Dallas Morning News.
Streaming Jan. 13-31. Tickets are $15. undermain.org, dgdgdancegroup.com.
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