‘The Thrush and the Woodpecker’

Two mainstage shows run in repertory at Kitchen Dog Theater’s current New Works Festival — both rolling world premieres, both dealing with middle-aged women and both so packed with similar metaphors that you can tell they are from the same playwright — Steve Yockey. Like Blackberry Winter (reveiwed last week), The Thrush and the Woodpecker centers on family dynamics of the most fantastical kind.

Brenda (Kristin McCollum) and Noah (Carson Wright) have a fairly typical mother-son relationship: She’s passive-aggressive toward his youthful idealism that has gotten him expelled from his expensive college. Into this tension walked Roisin (Diane Worman), who’s chatting and smiling but oddly menancing as well. She insists she knew Brenda years ago… when she was called “Connie.” She tells Noah a story about a woman who lived with a bird. And she may have an explanation for why Brenda’s remote house is under attack from a descent of woodpeckers….

Saying much more would be to reveal too much of this brisk, brief (75-minute), heartracing psychological thriller that takes eerie twists and delves deep into the psyches of motherhood and revenge and obsession. It’s masterfully performed by a tight cast, led by the talented naturalism of McCollum and Worman — two of North Texas most gifted (if under-used) actresses. Employing very different styles, they wit and parry, forcing you to switch allegiance and ponder the great mysteries of the soul. It’s a breathtaking journey into how far humans will go for justice … if justice is indeed possible.

Justice is also a theme in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, now in Irving courtesy of L.I.P. Service Productions. The play was a hit on Broadway, winning Albee his third Tony, but truth be told, it’s a mess of a play — badly constructed, not as tightly written as you expect from the master wordsmith of absurdist comedy-dramas, and desperate to be seen as more profound than I have ever been able to uncover. Martin (Van Quattro), a world-renowned architect at the height of his fame, confesses to his best friend (Jason Leyva) that he’s carrying on a romantic relationship with livestock. The news shocks his friend, and eventually his wife (Morgana Shaw) and son (Garrett Reeves), who react with (apparently) predictable, banal bourgeois moralizing.

There might be a great metaphor in here for relationships, or society, or even the fin-de-siecle of the American century, but it’s all so squishy and repetitive that it doesn’t build momentum. That’s a shame, because the actors are all very skillful; they have, unfortunately, been directed to play this out as tragedy. It needs the timing — the energy — of a Feydeau farce. Instead, it plods along, not funny enough or shocking enough. That is, neither fish nor fowl … just goat.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2016.