By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
End Times draws in the audience with authentic details, then Kitchen Dog's production goes deeper with lavish use of elements that make live theater, when it's done this well, a full, sensory experience. The scenic design by Clare Floyd DeVries puts the real—the old-fashioned pump appears to work and there's a cellar beneath that door in the dusty floor—against well-chosen symbols such as a windmill towering stage right and the white cotton sheets representing a sun-bleached sky. Sound designer Emily Young has created thrilling storm sounds that fill the theater when one of those "dusters" rolls in. To open and close each act, old-timey bluegrass and gospel music waft into the air as if from a faraway radio station. The lighting design by Laura McMeley subtly washes that white sky in eerie shades of yellow and gray when the weather turns foul again. The beauty of all this is how it works of a piece, with no one thing stealing focus from the drama.
Not since Kitchen Dog's superb staging of Sam Shepard's disturbing Buried Child has a play at this theater blended technical design and performance so seamlessly. Such acting. Nystuen-Vahle gives Janie a quiet dignity and persistent sadness that change only briefly when Gilbert proposes with a blurted-out "Marry me!" This actress carries the weight of the play, and she is a marvel. Cherry Jones good (if you're a Broadway aficionado). Meryl Streep good (if you're not).
Lee Trull comes into his own as a dramatic actor in End Times. Director Tina Parker has stopped Trull from reaching into his usual bag of tricks and has erased his annoying actorly tics (like keeping his mouth open when he's not speaking). He's a young, sinewy John Carradine in the role of troubled Brandon, like he stepped right off the set of The Grapes of Wrath.
Clara Peretz makes a memorable first appearance at Kitchen Dog as sweet, frail Fern. She's had roles at Dallas Theater Center, Shakespeare Dallas and Echo Theatre, but in End Times she begins her career as an actress of real substance.
Baldheaded stage veteran Nash, who starred in that award-winning Buried Child, is an earthy-sexy Gilbert. His no-nonsense seduction of Janie is the best scene in the play, if only for the joy of watching two fine older actors share something so real the audience feel like intruders on their privacy.
End Times ends the current season for Kitchen Dog. See this one if you can. It will blow you away.