By Donalevan Maines
In the Sandra Bullock movie Miss Congeniality, a ditzy beauty queen describes her “ideal date” as April 25—you know, “Because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.”
But LGBT favorite Mark Ivy prefers April 8, because it’s both his birthday and his mother’s birthday. And this year, it comes during the run of his latest show, Five Course Love, which plays March 8–April 16 at Stages Repertory Theatre.
“My ideal first date?” the Montrose bachelor ponders. “Well, Houston has such great food, so I like meeting at a favorite restaurant and just goofing off, then going out for a cocktail or eight.”
Ivy and two fellow Sam Houston State University (SHSU) graduates, Chelsea McCurdy and out actor Dylan Godwin, play a total of 15 characters in Five Course Love. They’re all hungry for romance, as they “nom nom” through five different restaurants, each with a distinct musical style on the menu.
In each vignette, Ivy plays a guy looking for love—including Matt, a nerdy architect on a computer-matchup date at Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, and Gino, a disgruntled “lieutenant” in an Italian-American mob family who dares to court the boss’ wife in plain sight at Trattoria Pericolo. Next, he’s Klaus, the latest plaything of a German dominatrix at Der Schlumpfwinkel Speiseplatz, followed by lusty bandido Guillermo (“Yes, it’s super-sized”) at Ernesto’s Cantina. Finally, Ivy struts as Clutch, the cock of the walk at the Star-Lite Diner—or, as Coffin’s script describes him, “the stereotypical rebel/car mechanic, low on brains.” (But seriously, wouldn’t you share a malt and fries with a teen idol named Clutch?)
Ivy, who’s now 28, grew up in in the swanky Sweetwater subdivision in Sugar Land, where he sang for two years in the internationally famous Fort Bend Boys Choir.
At Hightower High School in Missouri City, “I was big into everything,” he says. “I tried to do choir, show choir, theater, musicals, broadcast academy, PALS [Peer Assistance and Leadership, a mentoring group], and I was the school mascot. We were the Hurricanes, so naturally I was Poseidon. He’s the great ‘God of the Sea,’ so my suit looked like that.”
In his freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school, Ivy also took classes at The Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, taught by Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) professionals.
At SHSU, Ivy benefited from the school’s long-standing partnership with Stages, which jumpstarted his professional career and those of McCurdy, Godwin, and Five Course Love’s out director, Mitchell Greco.
Ivy was just a junior at SHSU when he was cast in David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole at Stages. He played an angel-faced teenaged driver who accidentally runs over and kills a little boy who darts into the path of his car. “That pretty much got the ball rolling,” says Ivy. “I was a new face to people in the community, and I started working consistently after that.”
In 2010, Ivy played opposite McCurdy in out Canadian Brad Fraser’s True Love Lies at Theater LaB Houston (TLH). “That was the last show I did with Chelsea [McCurdy], and from it I booked Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I hadn’t even had a lead role in college,” he admits, before starring in that year’s TUTS summer musical at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
A year later, he played Ogg in Bayou City Concert Musicals’ production of Finian’s Rainbow.
Some other career highlights at Stages include popular turns in Xanadu, Next to Normal, Life Is a Dream, and last summer’s audience-participation mystery-comedy Shear Madness.
Broadway would have to wait.
“It was not necessarily my intention to stay in Houston, but from the time I started doing training at the Humphreys School, I saw what a great theater scene we have. I am an actor 90 percent of the year, which is more appealing than being up in New York working four different jobs waiting tables. I have not ruled out New York, but it might work better if I go in my late 30s, since I am more of a character actor.”
Recently at TUTS Underground, Ivy played multiple roles with Godwin and other SHSU buddies in the 2013 Broadway musical First Date. “That was a unique experience because most of my best friends in town were in it,” he says. “It tested the boundaries for doing a job [while having fun at the same time].”
In partnership with Cordúa Restaurants and executive chef David Cordúa, Stages will offer “dinner and a show” packages that include a ticket to Five Course Love or My Mañana Comes (running through March 5) along with a choice of a three- or four-course meal at Americás River Oaks. Dinner packages are $95 per person for four courses and VIP/premium seating, or $76 per person for three courses and regular seating. Beverages, gratuity, and tax are not included.
Post-show Q&A discussions with the cast and creative team will take place Sunday, March 12, at 2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 19, at 2:30 p.m.
What: Five Course Love
When: March 8–April 16
Where: Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway
Details: Tickets start at $21. 713.527.0123, stagestheatre.com
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.