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Toy Boat Theatre walks the weird edge of a love triangle in “Dakota’s Belly”

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on Aug. 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
August 8, 2011 2:35 pm
Josh Bornstein (Vern) and Jen Davis (Dakota). Courtesy photo.

If incest, lesbian love, onstage orgasm and bloodletting aren’t your cup of theater tea, then you’d better not see “Dakota’s Belly, Wyoming.” All the rest of us, however, will thoroughly enjoy this intimate little production from the brand new Toy Boat Theatre on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Toy Boat’s part of Tacoma’s Spaceworks project, matching up vacant commercial space with artists, and though this is only the second theatrical event it’s a keeper. Mounted by former and current University of Puget Sound students and faculty, the company has transformed the tiny shop space into a venue that’s just big enough for a real theater feeling but small enough that the audience (and their laughs and gasps) are a big part of the onstage action.

And there’s plenty of action. Playwright Erin Cressida Wilson, who has gone on to indie screenplay success with “Secretary” and “Chloe,” winds her whimsical, ever-ironic way through the intricacies of a love triangle on a ranch trailer in deepest Wyoming. The trailer belongs to Dakota, whose beloved big brother and best friend ran off to marry each other eight years ago. Now, Vern has come trailing back after Trixie had an affair or two – only to uncover some pretty deep secrets between the three of them.

Josh Bornstein as the strong, silent Vern is the weakest cast member, taking a while to slow down his delivery and start being the part, but Jen Davis (Dakota) draws him gradually down into her deep-rooted authenticity. A little more weirdness wouldn’t have gone astray, but Dakota’s no-nonsense loneliness draws the audience in like a magnet.

It also draws Vern and Trixie. After a bizarre blood ceremony and its ensuing sensuality, Vern heads outside and – lo and behold – Trixie turns up. Rachel Lionheart does a fantastic job here as the firecracker-flirty bimbo in red cowboy boots who can’t decide whether she’s more in love with Vern or Dakota.

The tangle continues, and though there’s a lot of laughs – the foot tapping scene, the armpit smelling, Dakota coaching Trixie through offstage masturbation – director Marilyn Bennett offsets her excellently tense blocking with way too much personal space invasion. The teasing concept starts off fine but gets old; Wilson’s verbal boundary crossings are far funnier and more complex.

Still, the worn trailer set, the down-home fiddling music from Peter and Trevor Pendras and the good acting prove a dynamic crucible for this conflict between raw sexuality and deeper loyalties.

“Dakota’s Belly, Wyoming” runs at 8 p.m. on Aug. 12 and 13 at Toy Boat Theatre, 1314 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma. $10 advance/$12 at door, mature audiences only.

Upcoming shows: “Lonely Planet” by Stephen Dietz, Sept. 25-26; various readings and improv performances. www.brownpapertickets.com, www.toyboattheatre.com

 

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