Five Questions

Houston director has fun with "Mildred's" surreal radio romp

Houston director has fun with "Mildred's" surreal radio romp

 Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company is known in theater circles as " the little company that could." On shoestring budgets, they bring a steady stream of brave new voices to Houston stages. Artistic director Jennifer Decker has a good eye for promising playwrights whose works have not been seen very much and she has found one in Obie award winner Len Jenkin.

Jenkin's surreal radio show romp, Margo Veil: an entertainment, at Midtown Art Center through Dec. 19, possesses just the right dose of zaniness and spot-on ensemble work that Mildred's is know for. Decker is also all about collaboration and bringing new talent both on stage and off to the forefront. Local actor and director Philip Hays makes his Mildred's  debut with Jenkin's play. Hays is also founding member of Bootown and a company member of Nova Arts Project. Hays fills us in the action behind the veil.

Q; How did you end up directing a Len Jenkin play at Mildred's Umbrella and what drew you to this material?

A: I had told Jennifer Decker that I wanted to direct a Len Jenkin play. Then she mysteriously received a play of his in the mail. So it was a serendipitous affair. I loved the old time radio show, film noir, sci fi and B movie feel of the play.

Q; David Lynch comes up in discussing Jenkin. How Lynchian is this play?

A:  If Lynch has directed a 1940s melodrama radio show, maybe. Jenkin is way more goofy than Lynch, but probably just as weird.

Q:  How does your work in commedia dell'arte inform your work?

A:  In the camaraderie of the cast. I encouraged each cast member to find a way to make their character physical and find distinctive ways to move.

Q: How was your first directing experience at the Umbrella?

A: It's been a great experience. I have been a huge fan of their work and have been just itching to do a show.

Q: Jenkin's play reminds me of a Douglas Adams novel in that it's really fun but hard to follow. Margo, the ill-fated heroine, takes a detour from Louisville to Lithuania. About halfway through I gave up wondering what it was about and that's when I started to have fun. It's about as non linear as it can get. Do you have any advice for the audience?

A: Let yourself go and ride the wave of the play. Don't ponder anything too long because it's going to change. Stay open to the pleasure and joy in the mutability of the story.

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"Cuckoos" takes compromising positions to another level. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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"Cuckoos" isn't exactly geared for the prudish.
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A scene from the new Mildred's Umbrella production of "Margo Veil, an entertainment" Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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Doctors are found in many of Mildred's Umbrella plays. Photo by Anthony Rathbun