Review: Hyde Park Theatre’s Running Bear: Hyde Park’s new original play showcases writer Raul Garza perfectly


Mical Trejo and Macy Butler at the Hyde Park Theater running bear (Photo by Leroy Sakowitz)

In 2007, local storyteller Raul Garza won the National Latino Playwriting Award for his screenplay Fantasmavillea humorous look at a Latina and her Anglo husband struggling with the gentrification of their Austin neighborhood.

The work won first prize by providing a comedic yet authentic voice to its characters and astonishing the judges with a strong sense of place that drove the story. In a later Teatro Vivo production, the play impressed critics with its timely and insightful focus on assimilation and acculturation.

To varying degrees, these same signature elements find their way through the playwright’s more recent works, including El (Teatro Vivo, 2016), Confessions of a Mexpatriatee (Hyde Park Theatre, 2018), and Back-and-forth (Ground Floor Theatre, 2018). But in Garza’s most recent and most successful work, running bear – which gets a gripping world premiere production at the Hyde Park Theater – voice, sense of place and social relevance are deeply at the forefront.

The play revolves around Lucas (Mical Trejo), who is a successful middle-aged structural engineer, and Emily (Macy Butler), a conflicted and discouraged 17-year-old. The two meet at a bridge in Irving, Texas – their hometown – where Lucas has returned to receive an award for the architectural design of the bridge and reminisce about his youth in the undeveloped woods and surrounding suburban park. She seeks solitude and desperately needs relief from the weight of the world on her young shoulders.

“[Raul] Garza gives his characters heightened speech – a voice that’s smarter, more expressive, and more eloquent than normal speech.

As the piece progresses it becomes clear that the bridge – an 8′ x 14′ hardwood and red metal structure created by Mark Pickell and dramatically lit by Shelby Gebhart, with beautifully shadow imagery discreet foliage painted in the background by Lilly Percifield – serves a greater purpose than to bridge the muddy banks of Running Bear Creek. On this day and in this moment, it connects two incompatible and damaged individuals, helps to heal their shared sense of cultural alienation and social isolation, and allows the past to intersect with the present. As their exchanges shift from antagonistic attacks to compromising conversations to revealing monologues, director Rosalind Faires masterfully adjusts the positioning and closeness of the actors accordingly. They go from staking territory on one side of the bridge to sharing space.

There is poetry to accompany the choreography. Garza gives his characters heightened speech—a voice that’s smarter, more expressive, and more eloquent than normal speech—through which they convey their astute, emotionally charged observations about life. The often dense dialogue is softened by the occasional birdsong from the surrounding trees, courtesy of sound designer Robert S. Fisher. The intense Trejo and the absolutely fascinating Butler have mastered this way of speaking, but they have also created interesting and accessible personas for their characters that make this speech sound normative. They are also past masters in the art of listening to each other. On opening night, there wasn’t a moment of disengagement or duplicity between the two, which kept the audience completely engaged throughout this 90-minute one-act production.

This is the Hyde Park Theater’s first original play in over two years. running bear reminds us of what we missed.

Hyde Park Theater running bear

Hyde Park Theater, 511 W. 43rd, 512-479-7529

Until July 16

Duration: 90 minutes


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