Los Angeles Theater Review: DOLLY WEST’S KITCHEN (Theatre Banshee in Burbank)

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by Frank Arthur on November 5, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

DELICIOUS ACTING, HALF-BAKED SCRIPT

October has seen a great run for mothers on the Los Angeles stage: Lily Knight in Peace In Our Time at Anteaus, Denise Crosby in House of Gold at EST/LA and now Casey Kramer as an Irish matriarch in Theatre Banshee’s perfect mounting of the imperfect Dolly West’s Kitchen.

Theatre Banshee in Burbank presents Dolly West's Kitchen by Frank McGuinness – Los Angeles Theater Review by Frank ArthurThe second act weaknesses in Frank McGuinness’ 1999 study of a wartime Irish family are easy to forgive, given the excellent ensemble work, McKerrin Kelly’s economical direction, Jessica Dalager’s authentic costumes and Dan Conroy’s persuasive, homely set. It may be in Dolly’s kitchen that the complex issues of World War II are played out by multi-national characters, but Rima West, who is the mother of the titular character, is so important to this play that everyone still talks about her when she is offstage. McGuinness has written her as one of those wise, powerful, aging figures without whom the family might explode under its disparate intentions (think Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Casey Kramer handles this huge responsibility with a gigantic emotional presence and range that is true and endearing: she is funny, smart, quick, slow, angry, sad, happy, drunk, and so simultaneously strong and feeble that it would seem only a few actors could pull off the character at all.

Theatre Banshee in Burbank presents Dolly West's Kitchen by Frank McGuinness – Los Angeles Theater Review by Frank ArthurTo be fair, the audience isn’t always thinking of her, or longing for her return when she is not present, because the rest of the cast is unfeigned and sensitive, and their complicated, fascinating characters are busy fussing and fighting with varying degrees of self-interest in the context of war: Irish soldiers (Greg Bryan and Brett Mack) appear cowardly when their state’s official neutrality has them standing up to British bullying to get into the war; American soldiers (Cameron J. Oro and Martin Doordan), one who is patently gay, worry over the coming invasion of Normandy, and the Englishman (Shawn Savage sporting a Ronald Colman mustache) moons and spoons with the Irish and Americans – and all of them drink.  Over and under all these brooding men are the women who love them, sisters Dolly and Esther (Kirsten Kollender and Kacey Camp), the not quite ingenuous maid Anna (Natalie Hope MacMillan), and, of course, Rima. The two hours spent with this lot feels much shorter and much more resonant than the exposition would have them be.

Theatre Banshee in Burbank presents Dolly West's Kitchen by Frank McGuinness – Los Angeles Theater Review by Frank ArthurThe action of the play is slight, mostly intellectual, and sadly flushed away in McGuinness’s second act, which resolves its three serious conflicts with two fistfights and a good talking to. Such facile writing won’t do, especially when the previous hour and a half has built up expectations with great literacy, poignancy, and depth. Mr. McGuinness has a basic responsibility as a playwright to honor the thematic integrity of his premise, and when he solves his characters’ problems with cheap and aphorismic ease (to everyone’s delight, a shell-shocked soldier snaps out of it (!) when he gets yelled at), he sells short the promise of his aspirations.

Still, the divine Casey Kramer and a marvelous ensemble, shepherded by Kelly’s quiet, pointed direction, are reason enough to support Theatre Banshee and this thoroughly entertaining show.

Theatre Banshee in Burbank presents Dolly West's Kitchen by Frank McGuinness – Los Angeles Theater Review by Frank Arthur

photos by Donald Agnelli

Dolly West’s Kitchen
Theatre Banshee in Burbank
scheduled to end on December 4, 2011
for tickets, visit www.theatrebanshee.org

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Harry Hart-Browne November 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I agree with this reviewer – a totally fascinating and entertaining evening in the theater. A marvelous production with a top-notch cast. Casey Kramer is indeed a marvel. So many colors, so realistically played. Beautiful.

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