ALABASTERby Audrey Cefaly
Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by Clare Shaffer
Set Design by Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design by Lisa Miller
Costume Design by Kari Makoutz
Sound Design by Claire Carson
Intimacy Director – Ashley H. White
June – Kristi Funk Dana
Alice – Chase Crossno
Weezy – Tina Parker
Bib – Lana K. Hoover
Reviewed Performance: 2/13/2020
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The lights come up, and Tina Parker says, “Hi! I’m Weezy. I’m a goat!” So begins a play that will make you laugh – hard – and maybe also put a lump in your throat. It’s a play about terrible loss, and finding one’s salvation and fulfilment in the wreckage. It’s a play that will grab you from its first moments, and hold fast ‘till its healing conclusion.
This production of Alabaster, by Audrey Cefaly marks the thirteenth time that founding member Kitchen Dog Theater has been a participant in the Rolling World Premiere program as part of the National New Play Network (NNPN). Before any productions have gone into rehearsal or been reviewed, at least three member theaters contract to produce a fully staged production of an agreed upon new script. This allows the play to grow through exposure with a national audience. This particular script is receiving productions from a record-breaking eleven theater companies all across the nation.
“After a tornado barrels through Northern Alabama leaving nothing but death and destruction, only June and her wisecracking pet goat Weezy live to tell the tale. When Alice, a prominent photographer, arrives to take pictures of June’s scars, sparks fly and their worlds upend,” says the synopsis in the press release. Tina Parker, as Weezy the goat, breaks the fourth wall immediately, and becomes our guide and touchstone as the story unfolds. Ms. Parker (Weezy), with her usual skills, introduces us to her mother, Bib, played by Lana K. Hoover, and to June (Kristi Funk Dana), the farm’s owner, survivor of the terrible tornado, and the photographer Alice (Chase Crossno.) Together, this unlikely quartet of individuals show us a deeply felt story of tragic loss and eventual healing.
Tina Parker can always be relied on to give us a fully-fleshed-out characterization, even if in this case, she’s playing a goat! She makes it work. Sometime she “baaas,” and sometime she speaks directly to us or to the actors on stage. Always firmly focused on the other characters, Ms. Parker creates a believable, responding entity, running the gamut of emotions, making us giggle or roar with laughter one moment, and breaking our hearts the next. It’s a commanding performance.
As June, the survivor of the storm, Kristi Funk Dana gives one of the most powerful and fully engaging performances I have seen in a long time. She makes you believe in her toughness, she draws you effortlessly into her story, and unpeels layer after layer of this injured women’s being. She makes us believe in the artist, literally using the barn wreckage of her life, to create pictures that express her soul, and shows us not only her physical scars, but her psychic ones as well. Moment after moment she guides us along this woman’s journey, revealing secrets and longings and a strength she herself doesn’t realize she has. This is a characterization by an artist that you do not want to miss.
Alice, the photographer, is played by Chase Crossno, in another striking performance in this production. She takes pictures of people’s scars, the ones you can see and the ones you can’t, and turns them into works of art. Here again, we see tragedy and loss turned into something beautiful. Ms. Crossno gives us a no-nonsense woman, wrapped up in her work, her movements efficient and purposeful. As her story develops, we come to see the softer side, the side that she hides from the world, and how her disasters get channeled into forms of life that can be displayed. Both these women use their pain to create something else, something that has hope, something that will last and give hope to others. Neither is complete without the other, and neither reaches their full potential alone.
Bib, mother of Weezy, is played by Lana K. Hoover. The role is small but important to Weezy’s story, and as another symbol of loss and suffering. Ms. Hoover gives us a fully developed character with very little dialogue, using her body and clearly outlined relationships with other characters.
Clare Floyd DeVries provides Kitchen Dog with yet another stunning work of art in her set design. Specific where it needs to be, suggestive and symbolic where it needs to be, the set creates an environment that works seamlessly with this fine production. Covering the walls of the set are the paintings done by the character, June. These are primitive, fairly small, evocative, fully private representations of June’s life. Cindy Ernst Godinez, as props designer, put together a group of company members (and others) who created these paintings, in conjunction with director Cefaly and designer DeVries. They are extensions of June’s soul, and work beautifully in giving us a tangible expression of who she is.
Lighting Designer Lisa Miller paints time and place, creating insight with angles and intensity of light, shifting our focus unobtrusively, and creating a vital part of this whole vision. Costumes by Kari Makoutz seem so right, that you don’t notice them until you do. They are expressions of who these women are, and extensions of their inner lives. How do you costume a goat? In this case with tan overalls and a plaid shirt! And put momma goat in a nightgown. Why not. It works.
Claire Carson as sound designer creates a frightening storm at one point, and underscores moments and scene changes with exactly the right choices. Intimacy Director Ashley H. White carefully choreographs tender moments between the two women that seem natural and comfortable.
Director Clare Shaffer crafts a work of aesthetic appeal and functional purpose, art you’ll not want to miss. She molds and shapes pace and movement so that they become tellers of the story as well. Overlapping dialogue makes the situation natural and real, even while a very human-looking goat sits observing it all. Action ebbs and flows, tensions build, and moments of quiet, when they come, speak as eloquently as the dialogue. The production is of a piece. Acting, design elements – all come together to present this story of loss and hope, pain and healing.
After seeing Kitchen Dog’s Alabaster, you will have no questions as to why this script has been chosen by a record number of theaters for production.
by Audrey Cefaly
Kitchen Dog Theater
The Trinity River Arts Center
2600 N. Stemmons Freeway
Suite 1280 Dallas, TX 75207
Final Performance on March 8th, 2020
Ticket prices range from $20 - $30 for adults and $15 - $25 for STAGE, KERA/KXT, NNPN,
TCG members, students and senior citezens/65+ (all with proper ID.)
Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8PM, with additional performances on Sunday at 2PM (2/16, 2/23, 3/1 and 3/8)
For tickets and more Information, call Kitchen Dog Theater Box Office at 214-953-1055
or buy online at kitchendogtheater.org