Dallas — In playwright Steve Yockey’s dark-edged and supernatural Reykjavík, the audience eavesdrops on the knotty and tangled psycho-sexual intimacies between and among various characters, most of whom are queer. And some of whom fall outside the human spectrum: there are two huldufólk, or hidden people, for example, who populate Icelandic folklore and serve as otherworldly guides for a couple of sibling ghosts, and two murderous (and possibly supernatural) beings referred to as “Ambiance Sisters” who run a basement brothel (and possibly a sex-slave ring). Oh, and there’s a bird that falls in love and transforms into a human.
The lives of these hard-partying locals, tourists, hospitality and sex workers, huldufólk, and birds crash headlong into each other in the eight vignettes that make up Yockey’s trippy new play currently onstage at Kitchen Dog Theater, which, in 2016, premiered two Yockey plays, Blackberry Winter and The Thrush and the Woodpecker. As a core member of the National New Play Network, Kitchen Dog is participating in the rolling world premiere of Reykjavík along with Atlanta’s Actors Express (Oct. 27-Nov. 18, 2019), D.C.’s Rorschach Theatre (Feb. 8-March 3, 2020), and New Orleans’ Southern Rep Theatre (March 18-April 5, 2020). Kara-Lynn Vaeni, who most recently has directed for Second Thought Theatre, makes her Kitchen Dog directing debut.
The strong cast consists of six actors — Aaron Campbell, Justin Duncan, Camille Monae, Jo-Jo Steine, Mitchell Stephens, and Garret Storms — who tackle three to five roles each. It’s a pleasure watching them effortlessly shift among their various roles, recalibrating the tension between their characters and scene partners. And much of the action requires responding to something that happened in a previous and only tangentially related scene, so this play very much requires a taut ensemble.
Dane Tuttle heads the outstanding technical team. The charming Icelandic set design by the gifted and prolific Clare Devries works well as the interior of a techno club, various hotel rooms, a sex dungeon, street scenes, and a rock outcropping beneath the northern lights.
In general, Lisa Miller’s lighting design captures the play’s brooding moodiness, but it’s odd that a play set in the middle of winter in Iceland, and in which some of the action takes place in the early morning (around 4 a.m.), doesn’t include a much-less-brightly lit stage. The opening scene in the techno disco, for example, could have easily relied on an unsteady flash of a strobe to offer even starker glimpses of the sinister action unfolding among the characters.
Mason York’s inspired and sometimes cinematic sound design, even during some lengthy scene changes, helps to set the tenor of the scenes while also serving as a palate cleanser for some of the play’s more intense action. The lighting and sound designs, along with H. Bart McGeehon’s projections, beautifully blend and balance, particularly in the final scene, to create some truly magical moments.
Though the supertitles that aid in “overhearing” a conversation taking place at a loud dance club could have been a bit tighter, they, as well as projections onto the set design of scene titles and setting, are a creative solution.
Cameron Cobb is responsible for the well-done fight choreography and the buckets (okay, so there’s only one bucket) of blood. Yvonne Johnson’s costume design shows both the frigid Icelandic winter and the convincing heat between scantily-clad actors. Intimacy choreographer Danielle Georgiou had her work cut out for her with scenes that take place primarily in various beds while actors are wearing little more than underwear. As usual, she and the rest of the technical crew meet the artistic challenge head-on.
This show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Because of its explicit sexual content, adult language, simulated sex and drug use, and violence, both staged and implied, parental discretion is advised. During the fourth scene, which is goofily tender and surreally erotic, the characters share a joint, which fills the theater with a strong, unpleasant smoke. On opening night it seems that the prop wasn’t completely extinguished either as it continued smoldering even after the scene concluded. Audience members who are sensitive to smoke should avoid the first few rows.
Kitchen Dog’s production underscores the script’s liberal borrowings from horror, thriller, folktale, dark comedy, and even magical realism genres while still making a space for the tender narratives to unfold among characters yearning for intimacy and absolution in an all-too-violent world. Like the northern lights that beckon people from all over the world to Iceland, there is something beautifully mesmerizing about the storm of charged particles of Reykjavík that takes place onstage. It’s well worth the trip.