Review – “Dolly West’s Kitchen” at TimeLine Theatre

Dolly West Kitchen eggProduction: Dolly West’s Kitchen
Producers: TimeLine Theatre (map)
Review: It’s often said that the heart of every home is the kitchen.  In Dolly West’s kitchen however, this is an understatement – the kitchen comes to an emotional full boil during the extent of this adventursome and often-hillarious work.  The play, taking place in war-time Ireland, revolves around the three West-family women: matriarch Rima, free-spirited Dolly and tightly-wound Esther.  Though all three women appear strong, much of their choices and present-day predicaments stem from theif womanizing father, who has long ago left the family (leaving Dolly to escape to Italy where she ends up running a restaurant, only returning to Ireland when Mussolini comes to full power; Esther marrying a weak but reliable Ned Horgan, who Esther does not love, but chooses because she knows he will never leave her). Soon Dolly West’s kitchen comes to life with the appearance of three mail visitors – Dolly’s bisexual ex-boyfriend Alec Redding, and two American soldiers – the quiet Jamie O’Brien, and his blatantly gay cousin Joshua Rollins. 

Playwright Frank McGuinness creates wide swathes of lyrical dialogue, interspersed with some sexually-charged outbursts, as Dolly West’s Kitchen lays out for us the complex issues occuring in war-time Ireland, juxtaposed with issues of sexual identity and the results of a dysfunctional family history.  

Strengths: This show is a perfect example of the powerful ensemble acting that Chicago is known for.  The womens’ performances are flawless, especially the women on the extremes: the aged, cantankerous matriarch Rima West (played by the mesmerizing Kathleen Ruhl), and the spunky, lower-class teenage maid Anna Owens (portrayed by the energetic Sara Hoyer).  Accompanying these two are the actresses playing the West sisters, Kat McDonnell and Danica Ivancevic, (these two who have shared their impressive talents with Chicago in recent productions  – Kat McDonnell in The Sparrow; Danica Ivancevic in Faith Healer).  The set is brilliant – a cozy kitchen which thrusts out diagonally into the audience, a subtle garden on one side of the kitchen and an overturned boat near the shore on the other side of the kitchen. Director Kimberly Senior should be commended for harnessing all of this talent into one eloquent voice.   

Weaknesses: Even a strong cast and ingenious set can’t totally rescue the weaknesses of the script. For example, we are immediately asked to accept that a World War II era Irish family administers full acceptance of the several gay characters in the play – including Dolly’s brother, Dolly’s ex-lover (actually presented as being bisexual) and an American soldier who consequently becomes the brother’s lover.  Oddly, then, when looking at the historical display in the lobby during intermission, we are told that homosexuality was abhorred in Ireland at the time.  Furthermore, the play’s final scenes occur once the war is over, and we witness the psychologically debilitating effect the war has had on all of the men (including the two Americans who, one would think, would have gone home after the war rather than back to Dolly’s kitchen).  Considering how complex such issues of distress caused by seeing the ugliness of war, the playwright chooses to end the play with several Hallmark-moments as each soldier miraculously gains their samity, and life is beautiful once more.      

Aside: Altough this specific play didn’t work for me, I have always enjoyed TimeLine’s exemplary productions.  Their plays reliably present a historic viewpoint, including the creation of study guides and lobby displays.  In a whacky way, I like to think of TimeLine as a theatrical version of “School House Rock” – where as a child I was greatly entertained by these Saturday-morning cartoons, while coercively learning how a bill gets passed in Congress, the anatomy of a conjunction, and when to use an exclamation point !! 

Summary: Though Dolly West’s Kitchen is impeccably performed, looks great and has a plethora of hilarious lines, the play sabotages itself through a confusing depiction of 1940’s gay acceptance as well as a Hallmark-esque view of complex catastophes which are conveniently mended in the end. 

Rating: ««½

Personnel and Show Information

Playwright: Frank McGuinness
Director: Kimberly Senior
Sets: Brian Sidney Bembridge
Lights: Charles Cooper
Costumes: Christine Conley
Sound Design: Tamara Roberts
Props: Galen Pejeau
Stage Manage: Ana Espinosa
Dialect Coach: Eva Breneman
Featuring: Cliff Chamberlain (Alec)
Aaron Golden (Jamie)
Sara Hoyer (Anna)
Danica Ivancevic (Esther)
Kat McDonnell (Dolly)
Niall McGinty (Justin)
Mark Richard (Ned)
Joshua Rollins (Marco)
Kathleen Ruhl (Rima)
Location: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
Dates: Through March 22, 2008
Show Times: Wednesday-Thursday 7:30pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 4 and 8pm, Sunday 2pm.

One Response

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