Sometimes a play is worth seeing for the words the actors are saying. Sometimes it's for the actors saying the words. See Collapse, a new play by Allison Moore at Kitchen Dog Theater, for the red hot performance by actor Michael Federico, the closest Dallas theater has to a Paul Giamatti-style character actor.
Federico plays David, a husband on the verge of a massive breakdown. Having survived the collapse of a bridge during rush hour (something that really happened in Minneapolis in 2007), David has PTSD, an ulcer and a drinking problem. He's started skipping work because his office has been moved to a higher floor and he's terrified of heights. He's also married to a raging neurotic, Hannah (Leah Spillman), who's only focus in life is getting pregnant.
David and Hannah's life is further complicated by the arrival of Hannah's half-sister, Susan (JaQuai Wade), a yoga-mat-bearing kook. Susan may or may not be involved in a drug-smuggling ring. And the stranger (Bill Lengfelder) Hannah made out with after her 12-step meeting may or may not be the ringleader.
Moore writes overlapping disasters tinged with comedy and mystery for all these characters, but the most interesting dilemmas belong to David. Federico is a rubberband ball of bouncy tension in every scene he's in, remaining quietly explosive, underplaying while the other actors gobble the scenery around him. "When people know you're an alcoholic, you don't have to explain anything," mutters Federico as David, cracking open another beer.
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Toward the end of the 80-minute play, Federico's character decides to overcome his aversion to high places by climbing up the side of a bridge. (Clare Floyd DeVries' terrific scenery includes the suggestion of a span of concrete overpass.) He gets stuck halfway, unable to continue up or to return to solid ground. The action shifts to another part of the stage at one point, but you won't be able to take your eyes off Federico, clinging like a spider monkey to the rungs of the ladder. He stays there for many minutes until the final scene, where he has to decide to climb toward his future or tumble backward.
The play has lots to say about the culture of recovery, the current financial crisis and the residual effects of tragic events like the bridge disaster. The riveting performance by Michael Federico says plenty, too, about the art of acting and how to connect an audience to a character's emotional catharsis.
Collapse continues through March 3 at Kitchen Dog Theater at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. Call 214-953-1055 or go to kitchendogtheater.org.