Charm enchants. It beguiles with a gentle, literate universality. Playwright Kathleen Cahill weaves a gripping tale of transformation and self-expression through the life experience of 19th century transcendentalist writer Margaret Fuller. Based more in the magic realm of Isabelle Allende than in the mannered containment of Jane Austen, Charm vividly portrays the societal, personal challenges faced by a brilliant thinker and journalist, liberated ahead of her time, as she interacts with celebrated male contemporaries.
Cahill brings Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Orestes Brownson and Ralph Waldo Emerson to life with incisive veracity. She captures the essence of individual literary style, while presenting each writer as flesh and blood. All fall under the bewitching spell of outrageous, invincible Margaret. A rollicking homage, the play speculates about Fuller’s impact on the distinguished assemblage without rewriting history or exaggerating possibilities.
“It’s only dreamers who understand reality.” Margaret Fuller, lost at sea in 1850
Kitchen Dog Theater’s production of Charm enchants, as well. Director Christopher Carlos sculpts an array of KDT stalwarts and newcomers into performances that give heartfelt voice to Cahill’s expressive script. Utilizing every centimeter of Clare Floyd Devries cascading, multi-level design, characters define reality in minimalist settings, allowing imagination full rein. Jeffery Schmidt’s Ralph Waldo Emerson is so blindly enmeshed in self-directed repression, a snow cloud maintaining his “Arctic ways” follows and dusts him. Brian Witcowicz opens a window into the murky world of Nathaniel Hawthorne, tortured with a witch’s brew of sexual desire and writer’s block. Michael Frederico reveals Henry David Thoreau’s idealistic hermit tendencies with bemused innocence.
John M. Flores’ Orestes Brownson argues for reason and rule with his compatriot artistes, exuding pompous, macho entitlement. Tina Parker, in a high-necked dress that expands to surreal oceanic proportion, exhibits a lusty combination of sexual and intellectual voraciousness and nonconformist independence that reflects Margaret Fuller’s true nature. Chris Hury, Martha Harms and Cindy Beall create multiple characters that effectively support ensemble ambience. Christina Vela’s costumes reflect the mid 1800’s era in realistic detail, yet reinforce the play’s surreal nature, anachronisms and magical elements, alike. Lighting design by Lisa Miller and sound design/ original music by Floyd Kearns-Simmons enhance the magical mood Cahill’s script evokes. “Like a moth to a flame”, Charm enchants and illuminates.
Kitchen Dog Theater’s Charm runs through December 11 at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Uptown. www.kitchendogtheater.org 214-953-1055
Photos by Matt Mrozek:
“The Dial” journal staff: (Standing L-R) Michael Federico (Thoreau), Jeffrey Schmidt (Emerson), Brian Witkowicz (Hawthorne), and John M. Flores (Brownson) and (seated) Tina Parker (Margaret Fuller)
Revelation: Tina Parker (Margaret), Jeffrey Schmidt (Emerson) and Brian Witkowicz (Hawthorne)
About Margaret Fuller, from wikipedia:
Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, commonly known as Margaret Fuller, (May 23, 1810 – July 19, 1850) was an American journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement.
She was the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. Daguerreotype by John Plumb 1846
About transcendentalism, from wikipedia:
“Transcendentalism is a term associated with a group of new ideas in literature that emerged in New England in the early-to-middle 17th century. It is sometimes called American transcendentalism to distinguish it from other uses of the word transcendental. The movement developed in the 1830s and 40s as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard and the doctrine of the Unitarian church taught at Harvard Divinity School. Among transcendentalists’ core beliefs was the belief in an ideal spiritual state that “transcends” the physical and empirical and is realized only through the individual’s intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. The major figures in the movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Amos Bronson Alcott.”
A shorter version of this review appears in the print December 2010 issue of Arts & Culture Magazine