DIRTY DISHESBy Amanda Brooke Edwards
NTACT – North Texas Actors Collaborative Theatre
Director: Quintin Jones
Carol – Amanda Brooke Edwards
Ariel- Niese-Nirvana Nora
Emily- Shea Smitherman
Kevin- Daniel Dean Miranda
Dan- Quintin Jones
Reviewed Performance: 5/31/2015
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Launching a new theatre company is a daunting task. Finding actors to go work with a new company can be difficult, finding audiences harder, finding a technical crew is even tougher, and coverage from the press, practically impossible. For NTACT to have overcome these obstacles, and have mounted a rather solid production is a testament to Ms. Edwards and co-founder Daniel Dean Miranda’s efforts.
Dirty Dishes is a play about the disintegration and re-integration of an American family. Carol, the matriarch of the family works as a nurse, and is overwhelmed by the fact that no one in the family seems to ever do the dishes and she is the one who continuously has to wash them. This, of course, is a metaphor for the dysfunctional dynamics of her life. Carol’s daughter Ariel has a mental breakdown after discovering that her fiancé Dan has not only been unfaithful but is also gay. Her husband Kevin tries to coast through life and is averse to any conflict because he’s struggling with his own mental health issues. Emily, the youngest daughter is a typical late teen that just wants to have a normal life, and she remains the most sane of the group because she has found a way to disconnect from the family by living on her cell phone.
What makes Dirty Dishes so fascinating is that even though everyone can’t stand each other, there is a familial bond of love that ties them all together. This makes the play quite relatable to most audiences because, the truth is, behind the façade of the “ideal” American family, there is usually some level of dysfunction. The script is witty, observant, detailed, full of jaw dropping revelations, and while it may at times seem melodramatic, it’s so grounded in reality that it never strains credulity. For a new work from a new playwright, it is solid and literary script.
The execution of the play has its ups and downs. Part of this is due to technical side of the production. While the uncredited set design is functional, it is visually clunky. There is no mention of a lighting designer, but whoever did the lighting design at times caused confusion. The Studio Theatre in Addison is fully equipped with a functioning light grid capable of many effects. At times the characters break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. Because of the unusual lighting which didn’t spot the performer nor did it illuminate the scene, I found myself slightly confused at the beginning of these monologues if the actor was talking to the audience or to another character on stage.
The costume design was overall quite good. This too was uncredited. My only quibble with it was the opening scene in which the characters were too casually dressed after supposedly coming home from a funeral. I understand they are “white trash”, as they call themselves, but the short shorts and t shirts were incongruent with what was had just transpired. This said, as Ariel gets her life together and then begins holding a job down, it was nice to see how her change in dress reflected her new found stability in life.
Each actor had a strong moment in their respective performances. But a few also had some weak moments. Anger was uniformly played at a loud pitch just shy of histrionics. This family gets into arguments a lot, and every argument played at the same level. Some more modulation would have been good. Given this, the quieter conversational scenes carried many nuances in delivery which made each actor develop a three dimensional character. A stronger directorial hand was needed to bring forth more subtleties in the conflict scenes because it was clear the actors had enough technique to deliver more finessed performances.
Quintin Jones directed the play and based on his bio in the program which doesn’t mention any prior directing credits it gives the appearance that this might have been his directorial debut. While he was able to move the performers well throughout the stage (no one bumped into each other), none of his stage compositions enhanced the subtext of the play. Frequently, a character was positioned in front of another thus causing the actor to have to turn their head upstage to talk. At other points the character that was carrying the bulk of the dialogue was placed so that they were facing towards the wing instead of towards center stage. By doing this type of blocking, frequently, half the audience couldn’t see the face of the person speaking.
Amanda Brooke Edwards plays the mother Carol. From my understanding she had to step in to take on the role last minute. It’s obvious that she is too young to play the character, but this said, she was able to convey the gritty maturity of a woman who has reached middle age only to discover that her life has not turned out the way she planned it to be. Her perpetual anger and disappointment at her family for not doing the dishes (or get their lives in order) is really a mask for her resentments and she conveyed this feeling quite effectively
Niese-Nirvana Nora as Ariel is given the biggest emotional arc in the play. She succeeds in taking the audience through her journey. The scene in which she confronts her boyfriend/fiancée about his infidelities was spot on. Her mental illness and subsequent recovery from it was quite real. The one issue in her performance is that she got too intimate in certain scenes and even though I was in the front row, I had to strain to hear her, and I lost some words, which pulled me out of the moment.
Daniel Dean Miranda as the patriarch Kevin captured the essence of a man who has become bored with life: even though he’s present, he is emotionally absent. He plays disengaged well. But, his character reveals to the audience a shocking secret regarding his mental state. I won’t spoil it what it is exactly, because it is quite stunning, but suffice to say, this secret should have colored the rest of his performance. As he played it, it’s as if it didn’t exist. The director should have guided him more in how to physically convey this character trait so that it would infuse more of his performance.
Quintin Jones who directed the play also takes on the role of Dan. Dan appears only in the first scene of the play. Mr. Jones is a sensational actor. Though the role is brief, his performance impacts the rest of the show, and his presence is felt throughout the rest of the play even though his character remains absent.
Shea Smitherman gave the most complex performance. At a glance she is a typical teenager, and she plays this stereotype to the hilt with her physicality. This said, Ms. Smitherman developed the subtext of the script the best. She conveyed a wide range of emotions in between her lines. Frequently she would say one thing but mean the complete opposite, as people do in real life. She wasn’t acting the role of Emily, she was being Emily. There wasn’t a single false moment in her performance.
I recommend this show. Even though there are some flaws in the production, I seldom ever run across a new script that sparkles to this degree. Ms. Edwards wrote a play that speaks to our times, sharply critiques the “American Dream”, yet bathes it all in a humor that is transcendent. This is a play that deserves to be seen, and even more importantly, produced again. It is strong enough to become a staple of American Theatre.
Through June 14, 2015
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM.
Tickets $20 - $25. Call 940-395-2797. Website www.NTACTheatre.com
Studio Theatre, Addison Conference and Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison TX 75001