Artist Rob Wilson's First Set Is a Bubblegum Dream to Decorate Kitchen Dog's Party Play

The cast of Wilde/Earnest.
The cast of Wilde/Earnest.
Matt Mrozek

"It's like 'Miami Vice' in there," says artistic director Tina Parker as I wander into the back offices of Kitchen Dog Theater on an overcast Tuesday afternoon. "Complete sensory overload."

For the season's next play, company member Lee Trull reconfigured the wildly likable Oscar Wilde play, The Importance of Being Earnest, inviting it into the 21st century with a cast of hipsters, a trampoline sequence, music and bright colors. "A big pink wall is what Lee wanted," says Rob Wilson, the artist turned set designer tasked with decorating for Trull's "party play," Wilde/Earnest.

A large bubblegum pink wall is exactly what Wilson created. "It's not anything I've ever seen for a Kitchen Dog set before," Wilson says.

Rob Wilson midway through construction of his set.
Rob Wilson midway through construction of his set.
Lauren Smart

A first-time set designer, Wilson has been involved with the theater company in various capacities since its genesis in 1990. He has served on the board of directors and he's the graphic artist responsible for the look of the season brochures, which he designed back when he was working for SullivanPerkins. That's why he jumped at the chance to work behind the scenes on a show when Trull approached him with his idea a year ago.

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"He kept describing the set he wanted for Wilde/Earnest as flat," Wilson says. "I had no idea what he meant, but I've had a lot of fun figuring it out."

Wilson, whose illustration work appears on greeting cards, magazines and even the logo for the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, has worked primarily in two dimensions, but he's a veritable genius at bringing ideas and concepts to life, a skill he's found transfers readily into scenic design for the theater. For Wilson, the past few months have been about translating his ideas into the "theater lingo" and working closely with lighting and staging experts to create a sweet, crystalline vision of candy store colors under an oversized chandelier that will likely make the actors look like contemporary Barbie dolls.

"We had to come up with a way to imply they were outside, so we decided to illuminate cutouts of trees, or when they're at a party, there's a large martini glass," says Wilson, pointing to the 5-foot-tall wood cutouts that will light up and serve as a built-in map to the action on stage.

Trull describes the play itself as more of a party than a play. As the director of new play development at the Dallas Theater Center and a longtime actor and director on stages around Dallas, Trull has come to the startling conclusion that some people attend the theater to fall asleep. It was on his mind as he created Wilde/Earnest, which he describes as an unconventional theatrical cocktail of Wilde's play and a really big party. Not only has he collaborated with Wilson to determine the play's milieu, but he's also brought in experimental choreographer Danielle Georgiou to map out trampoline and roller-skate dance numbers, and local band French 75's Jencey Keeton has written the music.

"If you know Earnest, you'll recognize most of the play up to the ending," Trull says, explaining that's he shaken it up with other Wilde writings and ideals. For Trull, it's one of those rare perfect plays, which means an adaptation will only prove its continued relevance. "I just wanted to bring something on stage that's fun. Really fun."

For Kitchen Dog Theater, this will be the last full production in the Heldt-Hall Theater at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, as the final show in the season, The Firestorm, will take place in the Black Box Theater, and then the MAC will leave Uptown, with plans to relocate to The Cedars.

"It feels like a send-off in a way," Wilson says. "We have a great show, a great cast, and so it's a really big celebration of all things Kitchen Dog."


Wilde/Earnest runs March 18- April 13. Tickets are $22-27 at kitchendogtheater.org.

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