Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by: Christopher Carlos
Scenic Designer: Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Designer: Linda Blase
Costume Designer: Tina Parker
Sound Designer: John M. Flores
Props Designer: Judy Niven
Reviewed Performance 2/3/2012
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
David: "How do we keep from collapsing?"
Hannah: "Maybe we don't. Maybe we just figure out how to fall together."
A Mississippi river bridge collapses while you're on it. You somehow survive the collapse, but then how do you survive what happens afterward? And what about the people around you? How do they survive the collapse? And what about all the other things in your life that seem to be collapsing ? your marriage, your job, the secrets you keep? Great stuff for a sitcom, right? Well, yes, that's the way it seems at the beginning of the new play by Allison Moore, currently running at Kitchen Dog Theater.
Based on an actual 2007 event in Minneapolis, the play explores the aftermath of a traumatic event on the lives of one couple.
Fortunately what starts out as a terrific sitcom, complete with goofy sister from California and a guy from Sex Addicts Anonymous, soon develops into something so much richer thanks to the skills of Ms. Moore and an outstanding cast and production team.
It seems that David was driving one of the cars that went off the bridge. While he survives, he refuses to discuss what happened and won't go to the support group for post-traumatic stress disorder. He hasn't been to work in months and spends his time drinking and watering a dying plant with beer. His wife Hannah is trying to get pregnant while watching her life fall apart as she also worries about losing her job. Enter Susan, her free-wheeling sister from California, carrying an "illicit package". Things are in place for another major disaster and everyone is on the road heading toward it.
On a terrific set with savvy lighting and under skilled direction, the actors take us on a non-stop ride across a deliciously constructed bridge of disaster-ridden possibilities that finally results in a wonderfully satisfying conclusion with no clear answers. Yes, a satisfying ending without tying everything up neatly in a sitcom-ending bow.
Leah Spillman is Hannah and she is so good that you just immediately know who she is and get carried along moment by moment. Her roller coaster ride of emotion is transparent and acted with pathos and comic understanding. Horror at her sister's arrival and evidently unending visit, terror at the thought that she may be losing her job, grief at the miscarriage of her daughter, the loving frustration of coping with her husband, and the strange attraction to the "Georgia Bulldog" se* addicts anonymous stranger are all laid out clearly before us. Spillman's is a wonderfully thought-out and masterfully played performance.
As David, the husband, Michael Federico is equally impressive. He schleps around in T-shirts and pajama bottoms, seemingly unable to get past the present bog of indecision and depression until a "carpe diem" moment sends him off on a wild and dangerous mission. While he seems to be pushing a little too hard at the top of the show, it pays off as we see the character unfold before us. His final monologue is so beautifully delivered and involves us so with his character that we are led inevitably to an ending that is sad and hopeful at the same time. Matching him in emotion beat for beat in that ending is Ms Spillman. Together, they elevate those last moments into a wonderfully real human experience we can all share.
In the comic relief role of Hannah's sister, Susan, JaQuai Wade doesn't miss a trick. Decked out in some righteous wardrobe choices, she takes the stage by storm. Tall and constantly moving, going from one yoga pose to another, sitting on any part of the furniture except the seat, she lands every nuance of her every joke and keeps the energy humming. She's lost everything but is determined to be "open to the universe!" Hey, "que sera, sera" y'all.
Hers is a performance that is a delight from start to finish and the audience can't get enough of her. Her final exit is a little pat as written, but we don't care because she has the skill to carry it off. Also, unless I missed it, the mysterious package, while a great device to initiate action, doesn't really pay off either.
Bill Lengfelder is Ted, the sex addict made impotent by a prostatectomy (which results in a great piece of guffaw-provoking business) who Hannah meets when she stumbles into the wrong meeting. Watching him drawl his way through his "just can't help it" seductions and "keeping us guessing" actions is one of the fun aspects of the show. His scene in the coffee shop with Hannah is a superb bit of double entendre physical acting and delivery. Just who is this guy and what is he really up to? And, of course, who we think he is, isn't who he really is after all, is it?!
In an interview for Stark Insider, the San Francisco based online magazine and blog, Allison Moore said of Collapse, "In a play, you always want to raise the stakes for your characters, so I really piled it on! A lot of the comedy in the play comes from watching the characters working desperately to avoid dealing with the obvious, or trying to control things that are clearly out of their control. That's funny to me, and I think we can all recognize ourselves in that, especially now." Together, this quartet of actors fight for those stakes in a way that delivers a thoroughly satisfying evening of theater.
The opening tableau grabs the audience and brings a huge laugh. I won't spoil it, but I will say that what appears to be one action, is really another quite innocent though no less interesting one. We chuckle at our own culpability and appreciate the skill with which we were set up. Moments like these keep coming throughout the evening. Just as you think you've got it figured out and an impossible but foreseeable coincidence is replaced by an even more outrageous one, here comes something else to grab your attention. Comic moments are played side by side with emotionally charged ones, and what starts out as a smart sitcom turns into a wise and dramatically astute commentary on the collapse and rebuilding of our lives.
The set by Clare Floyd DeVries is scattered and spare but clearly indicates each location, making good use of a difficult space. With the audience in an L-shaped seating pattern, unique solutions are called for and met. Looming over all is the suggestion of a bridge with a very tall ladder that is put to dramatically effective use at the end. A billboard with tiny blue lights in a wavy pattern becomes the water under the bridge at each scene change, and offers a wonderful visual impact that only reinforces the playwright's intentions. A raked living room floor seems to echo a drawbridge. Linda Blas?'s lighting seamlessly carries us through the action and appears intuitively correct at every moment. Costumes by Tina Parker are eye-catching at some times and character-defining at all times. The sound design by John M. Flores aptly supports each moment and scene change and his musical choices are wonderfully interesting.
Director Christopher Carlos motivates his actors deftly around the set, and guides them cleanly and clearly moment by moment through a well-paced but never rushed journey to an emotionally charged, terrifying, funny and satisfying conclusion. The play moves quickly and seamlessly through eighty swift minutes and leaves us wiser and more sympathetic, maybe even toward ourselves, at the end.
Bridges can collapse for no apparent reason and sometimes lives can too, but together, we can build new bridges, and the hope and promise is that they will be stronger.
Kitchen Dog Theater, 3120 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, TX 75204
Runs through March 3, 2012
Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm
Wednesday at 8:00 pm, February 15th and 29th
Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm, February 12th and 26th
Performance on Saturday, February 25 will start at 8:30PM
"Talk-Backs" after the Sunday matinee performances
Pay-What-You-Can specials available to the first 25 patrons Wednesdays and Thursdays
General admission seating for all tickets. $15-$25 for adults and $10-$20 for MAC, STAGE, KERA, DART, ARTSCARD, TCG members, students and senior citizens/65+ (all with proper ID). Special group rates are also available.