(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
Beth Webster wants us to get to know Sam Houston in a way that reading about him just can’t accomplish. She’s waited more than a decade to get his story told, and although it didn’t make it onto the big screen, her two-man play, "The King of Texas," offers a charming glimpse into the character of a Texas legend.
Playing as part of this year’s Frontera Festival Long Fringe through Feb. 1, "The King of Texas" introduces us to Houston (Kenneth Wayne Bradley) via a lesser known figure in the story of the Lonestar State: Alphonse de Saligny (Zac Thomas).
A quirky character in real life, de Saligny was a French diplomat sent to the Republic of Texas in 1840 to negotiate the Franco-Texian Bill. Pompous, punctilious, and prey to a never-ending stream of culture shock, de Saligny is a hilarious counterpoint to the stoic Houston.
We meet de Saligny in his salon as he reflects on his Texas experiences in a letter to the French king. Under the direction of Ken Webster, Zac Thomas’ rendition of the mincing French ambassador is admirably accented and entirely hilarious. Funny from his very first lines, Thomas’ performance becomes increasingly charming as the hapless diplomat gets himself into all sorts of trouble with the Texas natives.
As the hyper-masculine and unceremonious Houston, Kenneth Wayne Bradley is clearly in his element and offsets de Saligny’s superciliousness by just being himself.
"The King of Texas" (along with all of the Long Fringe shows) is being performed in Austin’s newest theater space: Ground Floor Theater, just up the street from the old Blue Theater location and even trickier to find. (Tip: you have to drive around to the back of the building complex to find the space).
Ground Floor opened its doors just this week, in fact, after a Kickstarter campaign to help it get it, well, off the ground. The space is a bit cavernous and echo-y at present, but it has a lot of promise, and it’s exciting to see a new space for Austin artists to put on their work.
"The King Of Texas" continues 9:15 p.m. Jan. 30, 6 p.m. Feb. 1 Ground Floor Theater. 979 Springdale Road. www.fronterafest.org