by Elaine Romero
Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by Christopher Carlos
Set Design - Bryan Wofford
Scenic Painter - Rachel Obranovich
Lighting Design - Linda Blas?
Costume Design - Tina Parker
Sound/Media Design - John M. Flores
Props Design - Jen Gilson-Gilliam & Judy Niven
Christina Vela - Catherine
Max Hartman - Bryce
Diane Casey-Box - Allison
Reviewed Performance 5/27/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Money, power, sex ? the "holy" trinity ? too often used to identify who we are to the world. For some of us it is the end all and be all; the core of our existence. And if that rarified identity is suddenly, involuntarily removed from the individual, then who are we? Are we still viable, still worthy, still human?
Just say or write "ponzi" and we all have instantaneous visions of human corruption, greed, immorality and unethical deeds perpetrated on another human being. The word ponzi, as used today, is taken from Charles Ponzi, the first recorded investment schemer. His name is so engrained in our everyday vernacular that now any incidence of known deception has people saying "Wow, he (or she) sure got ponzied!"
So when a play is titled Ponzi one might rightfully assume they know the synopsis. In the case of Kitchen Dog Theater's current production of Ponzi by Elaine Romero, that would hold true ? sort of. All the main elements and usual suspects were there. People of wealth were offered a too-good-to-be-true financial investment, delusion and betrayal ensued and someone won while someone else lost. In this case, the spinner was an unseen guest at the home of Bryce and Allison who presented his gold-plated scheme with the signature line "Question you doubts and doubt your fears." A catchy phrase that was to become reality for one wealthy heiress.
This "gift" left her doubting her own identity and worth which led to a fear of life and what people perceived of her. Her ultimate power was se*ual and it was only in those human encounters that she truly believed in herself. But se*ual openness can make one vulnerable while visceral gut feelings go neglected and all of life's little evils come to prey.
On face value, Ponzi was about rich people who had more than enough but were greedy for more. There was more going on than greed, however, so you needed to go deeper. What part of a human being's nature would allow one to "in your face" lie to another human, all in the name of money and the power it supposedly provided? How much of the soul was abandoned when a person believed their worth was based solely on the ability to physically attract and se*ually control?
If that was the direction playwright Romero intended, that deeper level was absent in KDT's production. It was difficult to decide where the challenge lay ? play or Christopher Carlos' direction ? but my scales leaned toward the script. There was so little recognized drive or intent by the characters, whether by the scheming couple or the equally scheming heiress. There was no connection, se*ual or otherwise, between Bryce and Catherine, Catherine and Allison, or the couple themselves. There was none of that needed power absorption for Catherine when she was with Bryce at the hotel as though she had never seduced before though we knew she had. The ponzi scheme had no urgency, no thrill of the hunt, no tingly thrill some crave when they know they might get caught.
A beautifully designed and constructed contemporary set by Bryan Wofford spotlighted four different locales where the characters normally would have held court and claimed their power ? the couple's platform living room with stark chrome and leather couch, the higher platform hotel room where Catherine was queen, a table at one of the many charity events Catherine chaired, and her tower video diary room where she gave her heart to a dad who wasn't there. Yet even in those power settings no one took control or grabbed the upper hand.
Max Hartman played Bryce extremely low-key. He was the suave businessman who knew exactly how to play his part. But his seduction into the ponzi held no titillation nor was there any between him and Catherine. Diane Casey-Box was Allison, Bryce's new to wealth girlfriend/scam partner, and portrayed her like a kid in a candy store, all excited with anticipation. She was polar opposite to Bryce ? over the top na?ve or energetic or anxious ? and sometimes was jolting and unbalanced.
Played by Christina Vela, Catherine was often void of emotion. Being in every scene, I had abundant opportunity to observe her physicality onstage.
In a wonderful blend of actress and character Catherine/Christina was awkward and off center in her fine dresses and heels, even tripping a bit on the living room carpet. Her presence was as uncertain as her character would be with all her doubts.
It was when Catherine/Christina was barefoot that she became alive and sensual. You could fairly see her grounded electricity and it was that kind of natural power I missed throughout the play.
I was highly impressed and amazed by the artistry of scenic painter Rachel Obranovich. Her detailed work on Wofford's living room and hotel walls glistened like burnished copper or soothed in the muted colors of slate. Simply outstanding. John M. Flores' media design of Tarot card projections and Catherine's live on-camera video clearly reflected and further enhanced the play's tone.
Linda Blas?'s lighting design, while certainly adequate, was a bit too vignette with characters walking into a spotlight-esque cue while still in the same room. All costumes by Tina Parker were current in style and Catherine's more casual attire seemed to come from the actress' own wardrobe; they illuminated Vela's personality and were more suitable for her. I got a kick out of Allison's all too often seen nouveau riche dresses as though she was working way too hard to fit into her new social status.
I'm not a dues-paying member of the elite so maybe Ponzi held subtle clues only those on the inside would understand. The play held more than a mere ponzi scheme. By now the world has already been there, done that. A more profound exposure of the human psyche in such conditions was, like those Tarot projections, the card not turned over, the face not revealed.
Kitchen Dog Theater, The Mac, 3120 McKinney Ave, Dallas, 75204
Ponzi and the New Works Festival run through June 25th
Ponzi is on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Wednesday, June 8th and 22nd at 8:00 pm and Sunday, June 5th and 19th at 2:00 pm.
New Works Festival staged readings are on Saturdays at 1:00pm, 4:00pm, and Sundays at 7:00pm from June 4th-June 19th.
Tickets for Ponzi are $15 - $25 and $10 - $20 for MAC, STAGE, KERA, DART, ARTSCARD, TCG members, students and