MY DEAR CHILDRENby Franky D. Gonzalez
Directed by Franky D. Gonzalez
Produced by John Chakour
Audio Engineer – Daniel Garcia
Jason – Mathieu Myrick
Alicia – Julie Petrasek
Mother’s voice – Danny Bergeron
Reviewed Performance: 8/13/2016
Reviewed by Ryan Maffei, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Save any scheduling conflicts I imagine he’s trying to fight, the man in the picture, Franky D. Gonzalez – just “Franky” to half the two handfuls in attendance – will be there when you arrive, and insistently, if affably, shepherd you through the My Dear Children experience. This is an imposition to which he’s as entitled as anyone as the writer, director (“unfortunately”), and lightboard operator (“he learned you can go back ten minutes before the show”, revealed one of the leads). The play is largely the work of students from UNT; its two actors look college age but inhabit their characters’ extra years convincingly, and however old Mr. Gonzalez is it’s old enough to have a wife and tot and 50 other plays in a drawer. That figure may sound too neat to be true, but Mr. Gonzalez’s sincerity is too complete to doubt it. Felt as his presence was, conceptually the evening felt a little like a field study in budding-artist insecurity. Mr. Gonzalez wants to let you in thoroughly on how much he cares about this work. And while the unnecessary talkback actually did get pretty warm and fraternal, it could yet be met with crickets.
The auteur lacks a modicum of self-awareness this oversharing evidences, but balancing it out is how well he sells this as an underdog labor-of-love shebang. Yet the production requires no such qualifying. Though it isn’t the prettiest or swankiest, they’ve decorated the lobby and black box spaces they usher you outside to get between quite seductively. The sparse set is gorgeous, the music and lighting deftly atmospheric, all amounting to a more tasteful version of what I assume Red Shoe Diaries is like. In the program (which has a great joke), intro speech and answers to the questions he prompted us eagerly for afterwards, Mr. Gonzalez dropped names of figures like Beckett, Kafka, Ionesco, and fellow Colombian Gabriel Garcia Márquez. But those high-minded totems have little to do with the solid, simple, human work he’s so gracefully managed to stage. The director proved how well he grasped his play’s strengths when prompted, but is still working out his function as his art’s mouthpiece. He can, simply, reduce it.
Despite a few basic Becketty touches (the use of a tape recorder; that it’s one long conversation), My Dear Children is scarcely as conceptual or experimental or out there, which isn’t really a detractor. The play is a clever, potential-filled two-actor exercise about love, and the hook it turns on is incest. A sister and brother – uniquely united by their weird and tragic family history, shared above-the-frayness and uncategorizable but unmistakable chemistry – hash out what there is to hash out on a long night that’s supposed to precede a wedding. Resolutions get mostly left for later, but for a breezy hour and change we’re entreated to the thrillingly intimate process by which they try to find a few. The subject matter is provocative, but though the team touted the squirm factor, the show is mostly tender, thoughtful and sexy, with dips into funny and eerie. Attendants praised its nonjudgmental nature. And there’s a twist!
Still, I couldn’t conclusively discern how well it might sing right off the page. Though it has many terrific ideas, it has few profound ones and a few awkward or stale ones; it may not be the piéce du resistance of Mr. Gonzalez’s deep-drawer canon. But you still really ought to go see it, because the director found two performers whose comprehensive fabulousness is difficult to overstate. The foremost detriment of nascent (not to say amateur) theatre is awful acting, and the equally fetching Mathieu Myrick and Julie Petrasik are everything you hope happens instead. You marvel at their control, naturalism, attunement, fluid shifts across vast, complex emotional spectrums and that nearly unbearable chemistry, all of which dissolves into perfect demure normality once they stop performing. Respectively illuminating a tortured, overworked gentleman and a tragically encumbered firebrand, they tighten every gripping part of the play, wring the right flavors out of each line and mine the space around them like instinctual masters.
They could be doing work anywhere in town, and are indeed going about it. Yet they seem as proud as their producer to be a part of this upstart undertaking, and add key charm and context to his talkback. After all, he fashioned the well from which they draw their stirring emotional ranges. They couldn’t be as good as this without the strongest tenets of what he created: his sense of language and structure, economy and pacing, his passion and interest in the unusual, his ability to turn dark material uplifting. Upstarts are often worth supporting, so go check this out for all three, and the atypical experience of being more aware of the playwright’s presence than you’ve learned to expect. Give the man something to hold his Phatthedd high about, and to help him hone his acumen for the best things to let out of it.
Through August 27, 2016
Performances will be held August 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 8:00pm. Box office opens at 7:00pm and doors open at 7:45pm.tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors and students. Performances will be held at the Teatro Dallas location however this is NOT and official Teatro Dallas production. 1331 Record Crossing Rd, Dallas 75235