Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly, Kitchen Dog Theater’s current offering, is enjoying a record-breaking 11-theatre run as part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere program. After experiencing the production opening weekend, I understand the play’s popularity.
Alice (a photographer) is constructing an essay of women whose trauma is evinced by visible scars. This project has brought her to June’s small, somewhat ramshackle farm in Alabaster, Alabama. June looks to be in her 40’s. She is surly, and bellicose, asking Alice very personal questions and relentlessly goading her. To the point that Alice is ready to leave. June lost her entire family (including a child) when a tornado came and took them, as they were trying to reach the storm cellar. Perhaps her ferocity is a defense, or a way to fight inescapable pain. June paints exceptional primitive paintings, on boards salvaged from the calamity. She talks to goats, and they reply. One night, a storm triggers her memories of the incident. In the midst of her hysteria, Alice rushes to her, and a romantic connection is initiated.
In some ways, Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster reminds me of Steve Yockey’s The Thrush and the Woodpecker, another play that weds the catastrophic to the miraculous. Or at least, a kind of visionary breakthrough. Let’s take the goats: Weezy (the daughter) and Bib (the mother). Weezy begins the play chatting with us, so possibly, Cefaly means us to believe that they actually do speak. But even if June is delusional, sometimes crisis foments sea change. Who’s to say this phenomenon doesn’t make complete sense, for a woman trying to make some kind of life, after profound personal damage? When misery is your daily bread, maybe a spontaneous connection with another woman, enigmatic guidance from a goat, are just what the doctor (or God) ordered. Safe to say He owes her something.
Kristi Funk Dana is fearless in her portrayal of June, expressing rage and despair with authenticity. Chase Crossno’s Alice brings a more gracious, vulnerable energy to the chemistry. Lana K. Hoover’s Bib, the elderly, crotchety mama goat evokes the loved one whose time to pass is imminent. She will break your heart. Tina Parker’s Weezy, the daughter goat plays a crucial in the narrative, confronting June and calling her out when she conceals her deeper motives, even from herself. She pushes June into facing her scarier truths. Director Clare Shaffer is in intuitive and intrepid when she deep dives into Alabaster’s strange, difficult, often terrifying content. Shaffer’s exploration is masterful and vigilant, knowing when to go further and how to turn on a dime.
Cefaly navigates the minefield of extreme emotional and spiritual pain, without ever asking us to pity June or distance ourselves. June’s turmoil is made canny and accessible to us, and yet we sense the effulgence, as well as excruciation. Though June’s haggard appearance reveals her arduous, prolonged struggle, Alice sees her radiance, and we do too. Cefaly never backs off of June’s raw ordeal, her groping for answers to make her life simply bearable. She takes us to a place both profane and sacred. Merciless yet gracious. Violent yet tender. Tumultuous yet flippant. Perhaps it’s the balance of zen koans: polarized extremes. I only know it’s one of the most electrifying dramas I’ve ever seen.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents: Alabaster, playing February 20th-March 8th, 2020.
2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, Dallas, Texas 75207.
For tickets, visit www.kitchendogtheater.org or call the Box Office at 214-953-1055.
Article by Christopher Soden from Dallas Art Beat here.