At Kitchen Dog Theater, 'a love offering' questions truth, race, and love
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
I was lucky to be at Kitchen Dog Theater for the opening night of Jonathan Norton's new play, a love offering. Opening its 29th season, Kitchen Dog has delivered an explosive story. As I write this, I'm find I'm grateful for some time to process what I experienced.
On his website, about his work, Norton states: "I create worlds that no longer exist and make them new again with a strikingly urgent voice that speaks strongly to the world we live in today." So, when I spoke with him a few weeks ago, I asked him what makes a love offering "strikingly urgent" for the world we live in today? His answer was that he couldn't answer that question because it would spoil the play. He's right. Part of my challenge here is writing about the work without spoiling a second of it because it's a story you need to experience firsthand. And make no mistake - you need to see this play.
Directed by Kitchen Dog Theater Co-Artistic Director Tina Parker, the production embraces the gray area. Parker found a perfect balance within the themes that left me with my own questions - which I liked. This play carries some heavy contemporary talking points and heartbreaking moments of imperfect humanity, but under Parker's direction none of it comes across as preachy or moralizing. Whether this play is about Alzheimer's, race and class, or truth and denial is probably up to the person experiencing it. It's an authentic picture, an example, of how our reality filters what we're willing to see. A 'love offering' could be a guilt-driven bribe, or an earnest token of affection depending on the context of the offering and the people involved. I loved the dichotomy. I appreciated how much it made me think about my own place in the maze of race, class, and truth.
Parker highlights the humor in the play as well. Norton's masterful dialogue is hilarious, saucy, and honest. Through its characters, the play says things we're all thinking but are too afraid to acknowledge. You'll laugh at Miss Georgia's witty comebacks, but Josie's racist comments will make you gasp. Stewart, played by Max Hartman, comes across at first like a superficial "look at me being Christlike" Christian, and you can't help but chuckle when he dramatically prays or talks about God. But Hartman's grounded nuance brings compassion and fairness. Stewart is far from superficial and is in fact quite sincere.
Mr. Turner, played by Chris Messersmith, is the foundation of the play. It's a fascinating role because Mr. Turner is the Alzheimer's patient and spends the play as a silent albatross in the room, and it's from him that the story revolves. His contribution to the climax of the play is simultaneously cathartic and horrifying. The play seamlessly builds in Mr. Turner's past through conversations about him and it's through these moments that we learn Mr. Turner was an altruistic businessman, but he was also the product of a racist generation. Through his daughter, Josie, played by Brandy McClendon Kae, we see the white privilege from which her actions originate. Kae nails the pristine privileged white lady, and her appetite for justice in a difficult situation is solidified by Kae's dedication to the character's hubris.
As T'wana, Whitney LaTrice Coulter expertly balances her characters' choices between survival and friendship. Her performance is funny and poignant in all the right moments. Miss Georgia, played by Rhonda Boutte, might provide the most comic relief in the play but Boutte's skillful approach to the revelations of truth beneath the surface will make your heart twinge with sympathy and at times even frustration. The chemistry between Coulter and Boutte is rich and provides the audience with a robust story of life outside the nursing home.
Norton's play is mesmerizing, and it's brought to life exceptionally well by the cast and direction. At one point, I found myself physically leaning in to the conversation happening onstage. It's a play you do that with. And after you lean in, go home and talk about it. It's a pertinent and urgent story that has its thumb on the pulse of today - in Dallas and the world.
a love offering plays through October 27th at Kitchen Dog Theater.
Trinity River Arts Center
2600 N. Stemmons Fwy, Ste. 180, Dallas
For tickets and showtimes, visit www.kitchendogtheater.org.