Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by Jonathan Taylor
Scenic Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design - Lisa Miller
Costume Design - Bruce Coleman
Sound Design - Jonathan Taylor
Properties Design - Judy Niven and Jen Gilson-Gilliam
Technical Director - Abby Kraemer
Stage Manager - Ruth Stephenson
Martha Harms - Catherine Givings
Max Hartman - Dr. Givings
Catherine DuBord - Sabrina Daldry
Kent Williams - Mr. Daldry
Annie - Kristin McCollum
Elizabeth - JaQuai Wade
Leo Irving - Austin Tindle
Reviewed Performance 9/9/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Kitchen Dog Theater continues their mission to challenge their audiences to think and examine their lives and social conventions with their smart production of Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. This three-time Tony nominated play is fresh and well worth the ticket. Don't be fooled however. While the title may invoke chuckles, and certainly laughs permeate the production, the buzz (sorry) should really be about the meatier issues inherent in the story.
The story, set during the advent of domestic electricity in the late 1880's, concerns a doctor who uses a new electric device, strategically placed, that when turned on sends vibrations throughout the patient to assist in fluid transfers and releasing pressure. Surely such treatment calms hysterical women. Upon closer inspection the play intriguingly exposes the sexism and gender inequities of the time. The roles of wife, mother, lover, and the definition of woman are all examined in the clever ins and outs of various patients seeking treatment, and the people involved in giving them.
Director Jonathan Taylor, simply put, has done an outstanding job with this piece. He has balanced well the comedic and dramatic elements of the piece, creating characters that are incredibly open, vulnerable, na?ve, and complex. Each character has a distinctive arc that fits into a very solid whole for the production. While the production covers much, it inspires one to purchase the script or another ticket, to catch what was missed. With a metaphor laden, talky book, Taylor makes excellent use of subtext with lots of physically expressive moves from the cast.
As Catherine Givings, Martha Harms is the central character, the wife of the doctor. Mother of a newborn and unable to nurse, Catherine is a chatterbox who has no private thoughts and explores ideas freely with all around. Effusive in thought, speech and energy, Harms dances across the stage eagerly embracing the novelty of electricity, music, or an inspired conversation with a guest. Givings would be a visionary and controversial woman in her time, questioning and seeking information. Harms artfully captures her exuberance, and skillfully conveys the character's jealously of the wet nurse, and privilege of the female patients to have intimate moments with her husband. Carefully measured, it is a slick performance.
Dr. Givings is portrayed by Max Hartman whose character has the intellectual aloofness of a Frasier Crane. Hartman, who has the challenge of handling scenes of physical comedy, balances well the mood, with Givings' awkward disapproval of his wife's actions. Hartman plays his scenes well, staying in character as the audience laughs at his props, keeping the play focused and moving. His droll delivery of punch lines is very amusing.
One of the two patients seen in the piece is Sabrina Daldry, a younger woman married to an older and insensitive man. Catherine DuBord adeptly captures the woman's awakening and empowerment, taking her from a fidgety insecure figure to a confident and secure woman. DuBord is comfortable and believable in scenes where she is getting treatment, never going for cheap laughs. Her character is fun to watch evolve over the course of the two hours.
Daldry's insensitive husband is played by Kent Williams who doesn't have as much stage time as other characters but is solid as a villain-type. He represents the unforgiving male conventions of the period in manners, attitude and ego.
The doctor has an assistant named Annie, played by Kristin McCollum. The role has few lines but McCollum is a master of doing more with less. She has a very expressive face, and her character's quiet demeanor pays off mightily in a scene where she takes a risk with a patient, a moving moment honestly played.
As Elizabeth, the nurse, JaQuai Wade displays a calculated and effortless performance. Wade's character progresses in confidence and outspokenness that allows her to believably join the interactions of her betters (whether by choice or not) and becomes an intriguing counterpoint in discussion. She and Harms share some heartbreaking moments together.
The other patient, not seen until the second act, is Leo Irving, the artist, played by Austin Tindle. Tindle plays the quasi liberated man with an energetic gusto that adds a new tone to the piece. Clare Floyd DeVries set is lovingly detailed, colorful, and period appropriate. There are two rooms separated by a sliding door and wall hinted at with crown molding. A special detail of interest is the exterior shingles made from men's neckties, restrictive clothing that contains the story within the house.
As electricity is still a novel convention in the home, the fixtures reflect period appropriate choices, and the throw of lights from these practicals has been carefully considered by Lisa Miller. These fixtures in conjunction with the theatrical lighting create an interesting and intimate feel to the proceedings.
As Costume Designer, Bruce Coleman has gone above and beyond in his attention to detail color and texture. Undergarments have matching details to the exterior outfits on the women. Exterior layers are intricate enough to establish period and the few cheats with tacking do not distract or slow down the storytelling. Hats, gloves, shoes, all are chosen to reflect the attitude of the character, and as they change so do their accessories.
Kitchen Dog and Taylor have skillfully brought to life an intriguing piece that is well produced and sure to shake up the theater-goer bored with standard fare.
In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play
Kitchen Dog Theater
The McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC)
3120 McKinney Avenue in Uptown, Dallas, TX 75204
Runs through October 8th
Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Wednesdays (Sept. 21 & Oct 5) at 8pm and Sundays (Sept 18 & Oct. 2) at 2pm. Talk Backs with actors and director follow the Sunday performances.
Tickets are $15-$25, $10-$20 for MAC, STAGE, KERA, DART, ARTSCARD, TCG members, students and seniors (with ID).