Kitchen Dog explores the sad, ridiculous and fragile in ground-breaking Stain Upon the Silence

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Never seen anything quite like Kitchen Dog’s Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett’s Bequest, a montage of introspective monologues reflecting on mortality, weariness, disappointment, upheaval and living on the verge of death. Two pieces by Samuel Beckett and four by other playwrights, each characterized by fragmented perception, mesmerizing repetition, despair, irony, intensity and the pain of a life we can’t control and yet refusing to let go. All six pieces dovetail so smoothly (there’s a masterful mix of ache and laughter) we wonder how this project was conceived and so adeptly executed. If three symbiotic panels are a triptych, what then do we call six? Each monologue enhances what comes after and/or before, yet stands alone.

Rockaby and A Piece of Monologue, both by Samuel Beckett, are chilling and unsettling. In Rockaby, an elderly lady sways to and fro in her rocking chair, sharing broken thoughts, repeating certain words and phrases. In Piece of Monologue we see an elderly gentleman, in a nightshirt, describing a light in the window. A gathering of black umbrellas around a grave. Again, fragmented, repeated pieces of perception, frantic, panicky, subdued yet yearning and resigned. Both the woman and man are bathed in a kind of half-light that puts them on a cusp between the present and encroaching demise. Beckett loves to dwell on our attachment to the disappointing world, and hunger for divine redemption. Instead of looking for God within our own capacity for abundance, we mark time waiting for a lifeboat that never comes.

Tongues (Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin) punctuated by rough, ironic drumming is the story of man coming to terms with aging, the blows we must endure by simply leaving our homes and getting out into the world. Behold the Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured (Will Eno) explores frustration and hopelessness with satire when the coach concedes a catastrophic year for the high school football team. Pickling (Suzan-Lori Parks) finds an old woman in bed, evidently in the last cycle before death, delivering stream of consciousness recollections, grasping at memories of desire, destitution and regret. Lisa, My Friend (Abe Koogler) is a great way to end the evening. A ditzy, insipid, superficial teenage girl feels betrayed by Lisa, but isn’t sure exactly why this episode torments her. She converses incessantly with an offstage voice: “Are you there? Yeah. Are you there? Yeah. Are you there? (Pause) Yeah.”

Gertrude Stein demonstrated the power of anaphora (strategic, intuitive repeating of words and phrases for hypnotic effect) and made it look easy. The playwrights represented in A Stain make use of that technique with acumen and flexibility. It’s difficult to build an entire show on this without subjecting the audience to temporary lobotomy. Kitchen Dog avoids this, with wit and incision. They drag us into freezing, bleak, deep water without drowning us or completely snuffing our candles. Though it takes us much closer than we might have wished. It’s subversive, cunning theatre. Director Tim Johnson invites the grim reaper to plant a kiss before he grudgingly departs. No mints strong enough (not even Altoids) to prepare us for that. But it works, it’s not sloppy or ghoulish. It’s not a blood baptism. It’s precise and often drifts into the fetching and ridiculous and sometimes the reverie of absurd persistence. It’s beautiful and tragic and basks in the fiasco of life.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents A Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett’s Bequest, playing October 7th-29th, 2016. 2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, Dallas, Texas 75207 214-953-1055. admin@kitchendogtheater.org

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