Theater Review

Dallas theater company's world premiere is a bleak look at aging

Dallas theater company's world premiere is a bleak look at aging

Kitchen Dog Theater presents New Works Festival 2016: Blackberry Winter
Rhonda Boutté, Karen Parrish, and Martha Harms in Blackberry Winter. Photo by Matt Mrozek

In his bio, playwright Steve Yockey notes that he also writes for the television shows Scream and Supernatural. While there's nothing traditionally scary about his latest play, Blackberry Winter, the subject matter is no less terrifying.

It's about how one adult daughter deals with her mother's rapidly debilitating Alzheimer's while facing her own failings and fears. Definitely not a feel-good 80 minutes at the theater, but no less urgent in the landscape of modern living.

What keeps the production from being a total downer is Kitchen Dog Theater company member Karen Parrish's vulnerable portrayal of Vivienne, under the direction of Tina Parker. Parrish brings a wryness to the middle-aged baker who has tackled so much yet refuses to open a letter from her mother's assisted living facility because it "annoys her." Vivienne also keeps a swear jar, which she feeds with a determined acknowledgement that some days simply call for an expletive — or several.

Vivienne is blunt as she recounts her mother's decline, turning outbursts into anecdotes and regaling her audience with remembrances of her childhood. Parrish is slow to warm up, but once she gets going, there's a familiarity that makes Vivienne extremely relatable.

To help cope, and to keep an astonishing amount of scientific tidbits clear in her mind, Vivienne devises a three-part creation myth about Alzheimer's. Though Rhonda Boutté and Martha Harms are invested as the woodland creatures who battle for the memories of the forest's inhabitants, they ultimately spend much of their time onstage mutely watching Parrish.

If descending the steps to the Undermain Theatre space for a Kitchen Dog show leaves you feeling disoriented, don't worry. Undermain kindly offered up its theater to the Dogs for both Blackberry Winter and Yockey's The Thrush & The Woodpecker, which opens next week and will run in rep. Both plays are receiving their rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network.

Scott Osborne's wooded set makes good use of the subterranean space, but it's Suzanne Lavender's lighting — changing colors so gradually you hardly notice until the blue has become purple, and then red, then orange — that really drives home the endless march of time and shows how little in control we are of everything.

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Kitchen Dog Theater's production of Blackberry Winter plays at Undermain Theatre through June 26.