Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Theater review: Kitchen Dog Theatre intoxicates with its quirky, character-driven production of RX
You won't need a glass of water to wash down this charming little pill.
DALLAS If Dallas’ Kitchen Dog Theater isn’t on your normal radar for local productions, turn on your GPS and get there quickly. KDT is currently presenting RX, a regional premiere by Kate Fodor, and I cannot remember when I’ve enjoyed a play so much.
Intelligent, biting, and wholly compelling, RX relates the role of the workplace in our lives, its effect on our health and general well-being, and sometimes its effect on our hearts. The story also takes satirical, timely punches at Big Pharma, but not so much that it feels political or agenda-heavy. Instead, RX wittily examines our mega-prescribed culture and our ability to cope on our own when faced with dissatisfaction, elation, and loss.
Let me say that no stage production can err with The Rolling Stones hits playing between scenes, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to snippets of other theme-related songs (i.e. “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and The News). Great music notwithstanding, the thirty-plus scene changes became laughable as they increased in number. Miraculously, and as an affirmation of the abilities of this cast and crew, the scene changes didn’t affect the show’s pace too much.
Bryan Wofford’s set design consisted of a very large single piece that morphed into so much more as the story built. The structure hosted three doors with inlaid frosted glass panels, as well as some similarly glazed windows. One section served as a doctor’s office, complete with a vinyl-laden examination table and a backlit faux refrigeration unit. Another section of the structure folded out toward the audience into a bed. Outside of this central formation, very few props were needed to flesh out the scenes: a desk, a couple of chairs, a photograph of a cat, and a tiny plant (which, by the way, begins the show brown and dead and ends the show green and vibrant) were all that was needed to complete the design. Oh, wait. There was one other very special element to this design, but I absolutely won’t spoil it for you here. All I will say is that my grandmother would’ve felt right at home.
I should also mention the frenetically-patterned, jewel-toned carpet squares that served as the stage floor. Lighting Designer Linda Blasé integrated her cues and colors seamlessly with the set, but specifically with the carpet. The “top down” effect of the high lights and the low carpet made the scenes more exciting and helped to set them apart from each other.
RX is truly a character-driven piece, and the six actors who lent their talents to this production were perfectly selected. Their playbill bios listed a remarkable bank of achievements, including distinctive roles at many a local theater, as well as voiceover work and a recurring role on AMC’s Breaking Bad (it doesn’t hurt that Jesse Pinkman is one of my favorite characters of all time, yo). I am admittedly more adroit at musical theater analyses, where the casts are typically larger, but what drew me in as RX played out was the depth with which the audience was allowed to know the three top-billed characters: Meena, Dr. Phil and Allison.
As the leader of this broken-but-able pack, Tina Parker deftly portrayed Meena Pierotti as awkward and desperate which made her receptiveness to and reliance on her drug of choice that much more human. Ms. Parker shined most when given the chance to show off her comedic timing which was pretty much the whole show. I believed all of Pierotti’s emotions, and I had a heck of a good time anticipating which undergarments she’d show us next.
To some extent, I think we’ve grown accustomed to believing that medical doctors are knowledgeable and confident. Max Hartman’s depiction of the unsure Dr. Phil Gray was, for that reason alone, a delight. Mr. Hartman allowed us a glimpse of this man’s tender underbelly without maligning his physician’s intelligence, and without coming off as wimpy. The fairly slow build between Gray and Pierotti was so much fun to watch.
I am one of those lucky people who truly loves her day job, but nobody loves their job more than Allison Hardy, Gray’s boss and the head of Schmidt Pharma’s “SP-925” clinical trial (to be clear, that’s SP-nine-two-five, as in Dolly Parton, not SP-nine-twenty-five).
Played with unbelievable energy and bright-colored efficiency by Martha Harms, Hardy provided many of the shows cleverest lines. She’s a fast talker and a plain dealer, and she lives for her chosen career as oppositely as Pierotti loathes her own. Never had a severe bun wound tightly atop an actor’s head fit a character more precisely.
Christopher Curtis, as Pierotti’s boss Simon, acted out the show’s most memorable scene with reckless abandon, and his commitment to the task at hand was…ummm…enviable. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you’ve seen it (remember the “O Face” from Office Space?). Sound Designer John M. Flores moonlights as Richard/Ed, both amusing characters, though the character of Ed was decidedly more demanding and impactful.
Rounding out the cast is Jane Willingham as Frances, a widow who befriends Pierotti under peculiar circumstances. Though Frances and Pierotti may not have shared a long friendship, we encounter Frances at three very distinct points in the wheel of human emotion, and Ms. Willingham delivered on all counts. Saying too much here would reveal essential plot points, but know that she was an absolute joy to watch.
Is that glowing enough for you? Have you bought your tickets? You won’t even need a glass of water to wash down this charming little pill.
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