Review: Seamstress by FronteraFest
by Michael Meigs

Is it ethical for a theatre journalist to accept a cookie from an actress in mid-performance?

How about if everyone in the audience has a chance at the home baked goods, because Melanie Dean has handed front-row spectators two big plastic bowls filled with cookies?

There were lots left when the bowl came along the third row. I dipped in without compunction, happy to trust in Melanie's persona as the garrulous small-town Texas widow who has been making wedding gowns since she was a young teenager.

Ken Bradley with his direct stare and imposing assurance is one of Austin's most distinctive actors. This piece, "Seamstress," shows again that he's a deft hand at writing character sketches. Last year Travis Dean rode Bradley's short script "Windchimes and Varicose Veins" in Capital T's I ♥ Walmart to a B. Iden Payne award as Austin's most outstanding featured actor in a comedy for the 2008-2009 season.

That script was a rant; this one's a ramble. Melanie Dean's in her workshop, addressing a new client, probably an awestruck young woman overwhelmed with our culture's bridal rituals. The seamstress is charming and reassuring, as she's fretting with notions both visible and invisible. As she fusses about the shop she chats to the spectators, stand-ins for the apparently silent client. We hear how she wound up in this business because she was an assistant to her grandmother; how she fell in love with her slow-talking, courteous and methodically drinking husband; how her remarkable designs came to the attention of some big city designers, just at the wrong time.

Hers is a steady flow of reminiscence and counsel, a dreamy movement like a tubing trip down the Guadalupe of her memories. She's an artisan with a good heart, sharing good moments and regrets, putting her unseen client at ease. Melanie Dean makes this woman lively, friendly and entirely credible.  

Bradley's Seamstress under Ellie McBride's direction is a neatly done cameo, a professional piece of work turned out with an eye to the cut, to the presentation, the detail and the tradition. Just like those imaginary bridal gowns that have sustained our seamstress over the years.

Judging from the length of the applause for Dean and for Bradley's script, I'm expecting to see this piece again tomorrow night at FronteraFest's Best of the Week, and probably again at the Best of Fest in February.

I'll be accepting a cookie then, too.

[illustration tweaked from Felicia Bond's cover for "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" by Laura Joffe Numeroff, © 1985, a Laura Geringer book published by HarperCollins]

by Kenneth Wayne Bradley

January 27 - January 30, 2010
Hyde Park Theatre
511 West 43rd Street
Austin, TX, 78751