When Something like Chipping Smooth Happens Here, You Sit on a Pillow and Applaud
Last fall, a small group of young actors appeared in the Bishop Arts District, mounted a gripping production of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis and then vanished. But not before promising an entire season of productions under the moniker Davis Street Collective. It's the sort of thing that happens here too often: ambitions outmatching abilities. There are plenty of young people with the raw talent to produce an enthralling piece of theater, but maybe not the time or capability to run a company. And those of us lucky enough to see that first play are still wishing they'd produce another, because something unpolished and fresh is exactly what Dallas theater needs.
Maybe that's why when Friday night saw me wandering into a stranger's backyard for a play written and produced by a group of college-aged actors, I happily plopped down on a pillow in the small carriage house with 50 other curious theatergoers. We'd been promised a miscellany of poetry, music and drama. And certainly Chipping Smooth delivered its promise, with a one-hour play about falling in love, falling out, and the refining process of relationships. It was messy and at times trite, but that didn't matter. More important, it happened.
What this city needs is not another company producing world-class theater, although these whippersnappers are launching Pipe Dream Productions. What Dallas theater needs right now is young people doing cool shit. And in spite of a flaw or two, that's exactly what was happening with Chipping Smooth.
Disassembled into music, poetry, Shakespeare and video projections, this play followed a young couple from their first encounter through the course of their relationship. The audience was just inches from their experience of each other, with the carriage house doubling for the party where they met (complete with a youthful spread of potato chips and Twizzlers) and the apartment they eventually would share.
While clearly young, the unnamed couple -- played by Beaven Waller and Mary Ehrlicher -- portrayed a relationship aging quickly. Like most young lovers, they rushed to move in. The male character saying, "It's been years" and the girl correcting him, "months." Moments of the production were beautiful, others mawkish. And even if the angst-ridden, eye-rolling emotions of a 19-year-old aren't your thing, there's a certain charm to watching young people figuring out how to render love onstage. It's a cheerful process, littered with song, dance and overreaching monologues about chemistry and attraction. And all happening in Mom and Dad's backyard.
Certainly, it wasn't the best piece of theater to see in Dallas this month, but there's something infectious about a group of young people willing to throw a bunch of pillows on the ground and invite an audience to see the play they wrote with their friends. It's that kind of pluckiness that fosters exciting arts scenes in unexpected places like Portland or Brooklyn. And sometimes, every once in a while, it happens in Dallas.