Naked in the Kitchen by Canadian playwright Lynda Martens is the Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Reva Shiner Award winning play for 2009. The contest is one of the few full-length play contests in the nation which offers a cash prize and a full production. This year’s contest attracted more than a hundred and fifty scripts.
As Naked in the Kitchen opens, Psychologist Charlie Campbell, Jeff Stone, and his wife Beth, Meredith Mills are packing their son Michael, Gabriel Wallace, off to his first day in college. The parents are a study in contrasts. Charlie, sitting reading the paper, is so calm that he seems passively aggressive. Beth is just the opposite. She’s checking lists offering advice worrying out loud. Their son Michael is torn between the apparent lack of emotion from his father and the smothering of his mother. The tension is leavened with a good bit of genuine humor along with a certain amount of edginess.
Shane Cinal’s kitchen setting for the play has a worn, tired and sort of defeated look. The appliances and the counters are old, the table and chairs aren’t really kitchen style. If this were a room in TV’s House Hunters, you’d probably hear the couple and the realtor agreeing that this has to be totally redone.
With Michael dropped off at school, the tensions between Charlie and Beth escalate. Somehow the bonus in intimacy that Beth had expected with Michael’s departure isn’t happening. Old trauma and deep seated pains that were only hinted at in the opening scenes erupt as some surprising new events come to the surface.
Back into what’s become a standoff with the parents comes Michael with a new friend from school, Kevin, played by the winsome Kyle Hendricks. Although he’s a fellow freshman Kevin does add a sophomoric but thoughtfully comic note of humanity to the tense situation.
Lynda Martens is too close an observer of people to have her play wrap things ups neatly and she leaves plenty of loose ends, but they’re quite human loose ends. It’s a tribute to the writing, the direction by Holly Holbrook and the skill of the actors, that the play meets Martens’ own goal of producing something that indeed feels real and speaks to us.
The Bloomington Playwrights Project’s production of Naked in the Kitchen continues through November twenty-first.