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Come into 'Dolly West's Kitchen'

November 19, 2011|By Lynne Heffley
  • Kirsten Kollender and Shawn Savage play Dolly and Alec in the Theatre Banshee's production of "Dolly West's Kitchen.' (Photo by Donald Agnelli)
Kirsten Kollender and Shawn Savage play Dolly and Alec…

Ireland’s uneasy neutrality during World War II, the country’s deep-rooted conflict with Britain and the divide between Catholics and Protestants serve as both backdrop and catalyst for one Irish family’s personal struggles in a solid staging of Frank McGuinness’ seriocomic, Chekhovian domestic drama, “Dolly West’s Kitchen,” running through Dec. 4 at Theatre Banshee in Burbank.

Director McKerrin Kelly’s observant approach, a fully committed cast and earthy humor prevent the play from sagging under the weight of its heavier dramatic notes. What at length boils to the surface is both expected and unexpected, albeit with a too-contemporary explication of issues of sexual identity.

Of the three adult West siblings, only independent Dolly (a quietly compelling Kirsten Kollender) left the comfortable family home in County Donegal near the Ulster border. Studying art at Trinity College, she became a successful restaurateur in Italy until the rise of Mussolini, and prudence, brought her back.

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Set in the family’s kitchen, the play begins four years after Dolly’s return. The household consists of her increasingly dissatisfied sister Esther (Kacey Camp), their tormented younger brother Justin (an achingly sensitive Brett Mack), Esther’s hapless husband Ned (Greg Bryan), bubbly teenage maid Anna (Natalie Hope MacMillan)and Rima, the ribald, outspoken matriarch of the West clan, a force of nature memorably played by stand-out Casey Kramer.

As Ireland clings to neutrality, precariously positioned with its strategically valuable ports between Allied Forces and Axis powers, the Wests are engaged in intense personal battles of their own.

Ned and Justin have joined the volunteer Irish Army and Justin’s angry nationalism, fed by widespread fears of an eventual British invasion from the north, has risen to a fever pitch. Esther, restless and desiring something else and something more, resents Dolly’s freedom and is openly contemptuous of her stolid but devoted husband. Anna, the product of an abusive Catholic orphanage upbringing, carries unexpected iron beneath her veneer of girlish innocence.

Into the simmering mix comes Dolly’s bisexual former British lover, Alec (Shawn Savage), newly enlisted and stationed at nearby Derry. He hopes to reunite with Dolly, but is weighted with his own fears and uncertainties.

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