Betrayal, by Harold Pinter at Kitchen Dog Theater, will mark the start of the theater’s 20th season. That’s right, Kitchen Dog, the forever young, mean, bloody and exciting theater in Uptown Dallas is turning 20 years old (or as I like to think of it, finally old enough for me to date).
When I came to town in the early part of this decade, I saw a show at a blue building at a theater where no one I knew had worked. The play was called Heaven, and it was two hours of vulgarity, violence, intense acting, strange dance interludes, loud gunfire, wild comedy and upsetting poignancy. I became obsessed with an actor named Chris Carlos and a director named Tina Parker. I began looking for my way in. I checked with everyone I could find, asking, “How do you break in at Kitchen Dog Theater?” The answer that always came back was: “I don’t think you do.” They had a tight, sharp group of collaborators (an army of actors, designers and directors called associate artists) and a very specific way of working, a Kitchen Dog process that included intense table work, crazy theater games and an acting style described by company members as “full contact acting.” But then they posted an audition for a small, weird fairy tale musical in their cabaret series. The piece was called The Juniper Tree, and I was to play the part of Goldsmith and others. People came to see it and everyone was polite, but it wasn’t very good and I wasn’t very good in it. Not a single influential company member was involved, and as quickly as I had arrived at KDT, I was gone.
A year later, after finding a home of sorts with the Fort Worth company Stage West and Dallas’ now defunct Classical Acting Company, I got a call from Tina Parker (whom I kept introducing myself to at parties, to which she respond, “I know who you are, Lee. We’ve met.”). She was in need of an actor to play an 8-year old boy and a series of other characters who are all obsessed with The Dukes of Hazzard. The play was called Hazzard County and was a world premier (with the Actor’s Theater of Louisville) written by company member Allison Moore. I got the part and the full Kitchen Dog experience. Crazy theater games. A week of table work. Intense note sessions (including bringing in a cake for Tina’s birthday that caught her hair on fire). By the end of the process I was obsessed with working there again. They were auditioning for Bug by Tracey Letts. I didn’t make the cut. But I got into Debbie Does Dallas the Musical and then Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig and was asked to join the acting company by now co-artistic director’s Chris Carlos and Tina Parker. I’ve since had the chance to act in seven plays (three world premiers), have one of my plays read at their terrific New Works Festival, write an adaptation (with Leah Spillman) of a violent Shakespeare tragedy and direct two readings. I’ve also helped build sets, throw parties and read scripts. I’ve been yelled at, challenged, pushed, prodded and changed.
If you haven’t been to a show at Kitchen Dog Theater, go now. If you’ve only seen one show, see five more. It is an actor’s theater that loves good writing lead by two great directors. It is immediate, powerful and vital, and it’s charging fearlessly into adulthood.