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The intensions cooked up by playwright and Clockwise Theatre artistic director Madelyn Sergel for "The Party in the Kitchen" are honorable. But the end result is a bland dish that doesn't leave much of a dramatic impact.
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"The Party in the Kitchen"★½
Location: Clockwise Theatre, 221 N. Genesee St., Waukegan. (800) 838-3006 or clockwisetheatre.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through May 12
Running time: About two hours and five minutes with intermission
Parking: Nearby parking garage and metered street parking
Rating: For teens and older; lots of profanity
Sergel's drama, in its world premiere, is set entirely in the pricey Lake County home of businessman Phil (Louis Arata), his teacher wife Lil (Lori Rohr) and their teenage daughter, Samantha (Mara Dale). Over the course of many house parties set between August 2001 to May 2009, we see the emotional and financial turmoil of three suburban families through the years. It's an ambitious stew that touches upon disability, divorce and death, but it's oddly not very affecting by the end.
Part of the problem is that Sergel doesn't adequately juggle the personalities and different relationship dramas of her eight characters. We only get snippets of the characters' personalities (particularly with David Guy and Jeri Tocco as the young new neighbors Danny and Mary who both become more conservative as they age), while other Sergel characters like the combative couple of Guy and Ava (Patrick Kerr and Sheila Landahl) annoyingly proclaim their headstrong traits and views rather than just embodying them in their actions. It's a bad case of telling instead of showing.
Sergel opts to focus on incidents and dialogue exchanges that aren't the most dramatic, and she chooses odd times to introduce or remove characters. For example, we don't meet Ava and Guy's grown son Eric (Christopher Davis) until the second scene after he has changed to become a disabled and likely alcoholic Iraq War veteran. Another character just up and dies offstage without any warning of terminal illness.
Other moments of dialogue are just hard to buy. For instance, Ava and Mary go at each other in a shouting match about their long-simmering grudges, only to have Ava crack a joke that immediately diffuses the pent-up rancor and inspires an unlikely embrace.
With a script that isn't top notch, the acting company flounders under Andrea J. Dymond's direction. The actors don't seem to be that comfortable letting the profanity in Sergel's script naturally roll off their tongues.
Dymond's staging also is marred by long transitional pauses and scenes that ring false, particularly when Eric fails to notice his mother's entrance just as his father launches into a nasty verbal excoriation of her.
Clockwise Theatre deserves to be commended for its artistic outlook and noble mission to be a Waukegan-based theater company that specializes in producing new and recent works by Midwestern playwrights. Unfortunately, "The Party in the Kitchen" doesn't offer much to celebrate in meeting that goal.