The Biscuiteater by Jim Loucks
by David Glen Robinson
Austin’s newest theatre venue, the Ground Floor Theater, opened its performance doors to the world on January 19 with the first performances of the 2015 edition of FronteraFest Long Fringe. The theater is the brainchild of Lisa Scheps and Patti Neff-Tiven, producers who envisioned a theater to meet a dire need: an independent, community-collaborative theater to counter the recent shutterings of east side theaters.
Robert Faires of the Austin Chronicle has called the independent east side theaters “warehouse theaters,” and Ground Floor Theater attests to the aptness of the label. Built into a large warehouse subdivided for commercial leases, the place has a concrete floor and a 20-foot ceiling. Walls and ceiling are of the girder-and-truss industrial aspect, all painted time-honored theater black. A series of high loading dock doors extend along the outside wall; indeed, the producers briefly considered 'Loading Dock Theater' for the name of the venue.
In slight irony, audience members entered the playing space to be greeted by feelings of warmth and embracing comfort, not by a spectacle of overwhelming industrial vastness. For the festival, both the raked house and the stage are much wider than they are deep. The electrical buzz of lighting instruments and speakers was absent, perhaps due to the equipment’s elevation into the high ceiling.
This atmospheric and calming environment welcomed The Biscuiteater, Jim Loucks’ engaging one-man story-telling performance. His stories are multigenerational, told by a boy growing up in the Deep South in a broken, fundamentalist family. The boy fastened on his grandfather for support. Grandfather saw in the boy a kind of path to healing for his own brokenness in police work. The Biscuiteater tells exactly how both became whole. The deeper theme in the show is how unavoidable life events present contradictions to rule-based faith and how true, sustaining spirituality is far more than a set of rules.
Jim Louks (photo: HPT)
The title The Biscuiteater may be obscure to those without rural backgrounds. A biscuiteater is a hound that in early training or the lack of it panics at the report, fire, and smoke of firearms used by its hunting masters. If the dog cannot be trained to withstand the discomfort, it is “ruined” for the manly (dogly?) hunting life. Such a dog is relegated to sleeping on the porch and eating tossed-out leftover biscuits (Grandma always baked fresh). Hence the term “biscuiteater” implies a dog too fearful to hunt, and by extension a person too fearful and withdrawn to live life boldly.
The boy has a keen grasp of metaphor and earnestly tells his grandfather he doesn’t want to be a biscuiteater. The grandfather accepts the mission to teach his grandson how to overcome fear. The stories Louks tells of the grandfather’s efforts create an endearing through-line in the show.
Jim Loucks is both writer and performer of The Biscuiteater. The stories connect with anyone who has ever had a family—a Southern background isn’t really necessary. Loucks enacts 5 or 6 characters in three generations of his family and brings to each their inflections, intonations, and movement characteristics in addition to their stories. The highest mark of his skill is his ability to flash back and forth between two characters in dialogue , a chameleon changing colors while trapped in a kaleidoscope. Loucks is an excellent performer, and theatergoers should watch for him in any future shows.
The Biscuiteater is recommended for all. Lisa Scheps and Patti Neff-Tiven emphasize a commitment to providing a venue for underrepresented communities in every way that may be defined. They've made an excellent start in hosting Frontera Fest Long Fringe and The Biscuiteater.
979 Springdale Rd
Austin, TX, 78702
Plays until Sunday, January 25.