Theater Review: Sometimes Shaky, Kitchen Dog’s Collapse Applies Deft Hand to Trauma

Bridges usually represent safety and stability. They tend to extend over troubled waters, or span the gap between warring factions to bring peace. How tragic, then, when these bulwarks of constancy fail and leave us broken, literally and figuratively. Kitchen Dog Theater offers an engaging look at that dichotomy in their production of Allison Moore’s healing through humor play, Collapse.

The play is the third in Kitchen Dog’s 21st season, and in a symmetrical twist, it is the third of three productions in a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Co-Artistic Director Christopher Carlos takes the premise of people on a mission to conquer fear, and allows the actors room to stretch and explore these characters. They do so in Clare Floyd DeVries’ dazzling, off-kilter, sloping set with a laddered bridge stanchion which spans the acting space, looming, if you will, over the action.

Moore, a member of Kitchen Dog’s artistic company, has written a play that uses the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis to explore how people deal with the aftermath of tragedy. It asks questions like how do we move on with work, family, new lives, and the addictions and disorders that may come about as a result?

Hannah (Leah Spillman) is a tightly-wound worrier. She worries about losing her job as an attorney, about getting pregnant, but mostly about her “sick” husband, David (Michael Federico). He is a bridge survivor who has a nervous stomach, nervous mind, and nervous hands, perpetually running through his curly hair. Lately, he is unable to go to work or do anything besides drink beer and suffer from headaches. They are a married couple on the brink of their own collapse. That living room of theirs is sloping for a reason, mind you.

To complicate matters, Hannah’s brash and brazen sister, Susan (JaQuai Wade), drops in with luggage in tow (including a mysterious package) to stay for an indeterminate amount of time. Throw in recovering addict on the prowl, Ted (Bill Lengfelder), and you have a recipe for more agita and comedy of the uncomfortable.

Spillman as the play’s unsteady emotional center and sympathetic figure has her work cut out for her, and she handles it with a dedicated aplomb. Federico as her damaged husband uses the nuanced, high dudgeon reactions that Paul Giamatti has built his career upon to great effect. Wade is the free-spirit who opens herself “to the universal flow,” a Technicolor force of nature who electrifies the stage whenever she waltzes in. Lengfelder’s Georgian (great Southern dialect) is more hound dog than bulldog who’s amorous advances verge way into the land of creepy.

Everyone looks better than great in Tina Parker’s costumes, which consist of character-appropriate tights and shorts, Star Wars pajamas, and business attire. And while Collapse may feel like a shaky bridge at times, it gets you to your destination and you hardly notice the creaks and cracks along the way.

Photo by Matt Mrozek

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