A teen-ager’s frantic plea for help due to a queasy stomach upsets the cozy familial status quo applecart. Quiara Alegria Hudes’ popular 2009 domestic dramedy 26 Miles evolves into a rapid-fire twenty-six-scene journey of exploration from a blue collar Philadelphia suburb to Yellowstone’s pristine peaks. Feeling sometimes like drawing source material from the films “Kramer vs. Kramer”and “Thelma and Louise”, with a rhetorical nod to “Dances with Buffalo”, this bonding themed play follows an estranged mother and daughter‘s spontaneous cross-country trek, interrupting it on occasion with flashback or one-sided pay phone conversation to establish time’s passage and context. Focused more on the detail of life’s transitions than its poetry, Hude’s play settles into Kitchen Dog Theater’s cavernous main playing space as if it were written with the company in mind.
KDT co-artistic director Tina Parker directs handily, while her counterpart Christopher Carlos acts as the play’s mother Beatriz’s honey Manuel and several other quirky characters along the road trip. Christina Vela gives a pleasing, empathetic performance as an outspoken mother who learns as much about herself as about her intellectual daughter Olivia on the trip. In her Kitchen Dog Theater debut, Booker T. Washington junior Allie Donnelly functions as the play’s narrator as well as its main character Olivia. Absolutely at ease and focused in every scene, she shows genuine talent as a stage actress and a natural bent for ensemble playing. Ashley Wood’s portrayal of Olivia’s dad Aaron looks and acts with a bumbling, self-absorbed quality that matches Olivia’s self-absorbed intellectualizing. This is a predictable but non-offensive play with lightweight melodrama and modest peak life revelations along with TV sitcom-style humor. The flashback scene, recreating a “moment at Woodstock” where Olivia’s parents supposedly met (wouldn’t they just), feels like it belongs more in an SNL skit parodying the 60’s era than in a respectable stage production, but it sure earned a laugh opening night. A stately, non-symmetrical, sprawling, staggered platform set by Cindy Ernst gives the actors plenty of interesting space to explore internal motivations or act out conflict. Costumes by Korey Kent, other than in the overdone “Woodstock” scene, reinforce characters respectably. Director Tina Parker makes the most of her straightforward task without ever allowing the play to sink into soap opera stink. This would be an ideal performance to attend on a first date with someone met online, not too deep or controversial, but interesting enough to chat about over coffee afterwards.
Runs through December 10, 2011. 214-953-2258 http://www.kitchendogtheater.org