Inside a Pyramid Scheme in Ponzi at Kitchen Dog Theater

Theater Caps are bite-sized punch-packing capsule reviews by resident theater critic Elaine Liner. Use them as a reminder -- or a teaser, if you procrastinate -- of her full-length reviews in The Mixmaster's weekly sister.

The Bernie Madoff case hovers over Ponzi, the new play by Elaine Romero getting its world premiere as the mainstage production in the New Works Festival at Kitchen Dog Theater. A mysterious investment genius named Jack guarantees high returns on the millions entrusted to him. It takes at least $6 mil to get into his exclusive "fund," so the stakes are high even if you have money to burn.

We never see Jack in the play, though characters talk about him constantly. He's in the next room at the fancy cocktail party that opens act one, where we meet a wary heiress named Catherine (played by Christina Vela) and a friendly, persuasive nouveau riche couple, Bryce (Max Hartman) and Allison (Diane Casey Box), trying to buy their way into high society.

It's a great hook to hang a play on. Bryce and Allison are charming but a little creepy. And there's the vulnerable Catherine, so afraid of losing her $22 million inheritance that she doesn't date, preferring the company of her cat. She makes video letters to her dead father and works as a volunteer for museum fundraisers. When Bryce gets all sexy on her, what do you think happens? Hello, hot sex; goodbye, moolah.

In the production directed by Chris Carlos, the performances are solid all around. The problem in the play is that the most interesting character, the mercurial "Jack," is kept offstage. (The same problem affected Uptown Players' recent production of Horton Foote's drama The Young Man from Atlanta). It's like the old Chekhov thing about introducing a gun in the first act. If it hasn't gone off by the third, your audience will be disappointed. So it is with Jack, a terrific character whose dastardly Ponzi scheme wrecks the lives of everyone who hands over their millions.

Ponzi tries to ask big questions about what it means to have money and lose it, and to never have love and long for it. But the question we keep asking as we watch it is, "Where's Jack?"

Ponzi continues at Kitchen Dog Theater's New Works Festival through June 25. Call 214-953-1055 or kitchendogtheater.org.

Kitchen Dog's annual New Works Festival continues for a couple more weeks. Some of the new play readings and performances on the boards:

  • Hungry by Lia Romeo, 1 p.m. Saturday, June 4. A high school misfit finds a new friend in a Minotaur that suddenly appears in her backyard. Directed by Lisa Lawrence Holland.
  • Civilization (All You Can Eat) by Jason Grote, 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4. Six dinner guests and a giant hog sit down to dinner together. Directed by KDT company member Jonathan Taylor.
  • 9 Circles by Bill Cain, 7 p.m. Sunday, June 5. Winner of a 2011 Steinberg New Play award, this one follows an American soldier accused of war crimes in Iraq. Directed by KDT company member Cameron Cobb.
  • Three Wolves and a Lamb by Yussef El Guindi, 1 p.m. Saturday, June 18. Peace activists plan a weekend gathering of Palestinian and Israeli kids in this comedy about political, religious and personality conflicts. Directed by Alex Organ.
  • A Wolf Inside the Fence by Joseph Fisher, 4 p.m. Saturday, June 18. Lee Trull directs the reading of this new play about a high school girl and a history teacher who strike up an unusual relationship.
  • (Exit, Pursued by Bear) by Lauren Gunderson, 7 p.m. Sunday, June 19. A revenge comedy based on Shakespeare's famous stage direction. Directed by KDT and DTC company member Sally Nystuen-Vahle.
  • Pup Fest 2011, 1 & 4 p.m., June 11. This year's 10th annual PUP Fest will feature an afternoon of five world premiere staged readings of work by local high school playwrights, developed through playwriting workshops with local playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood. This year's PUP Fest readings are: The Drama of the Dead Dog by Leah Bell (Richardson H.S.); Spring by Graham Dudley (Booker T. Washington HSPVA); Hell Freezing Over by Haleyna Kociuk-Garza (W. T. White H.S.); Whiskey and Coke by Courtney Norris (Booker T. Washington HSPVA) and A While by Katrina Thompson (Greenhill School).

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