Dog tired

Take six adults and a geriatric golden retriever named Athena, and you’ve got the makings of enigmatic theatre company’s new production, Athena, by local playwright Lucia Del Vecchio. Described as offbeat and triumphant, the play’s world premiere is part of the North Carolina Stage Company’s Catalyst Series.

Headed for the doghouse: Has the enigmatic theatre company bitten off more than they can chew with Athena, or will outstanding performances make this comedy more than the sum of its parts? photo by Anne Fitten Glenn

Del Vecchio received her master of fine arts in playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, and her works have been produced or had staged readings in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and New York.

One hopes that superb acting and expert directing will make something memorable of a script that is neither offbeat nor triumphant, and demands special effects that can’t reasonably be expected to work in the NCSC black box space. Perhaps extensive use of video projection will suggest the climactic house-wrecking windstorm, but it will be a stretch.

More substantively, the one-act play is comprised of bitter banter between unhappy characters, one of whom suffers from severe short-term memory loss due to a freak accident. One couple owns the dying dog and are about to attempt a baby, another pair are enjoying their first night away from a newborn and the third have been set up by a matchmaking friend.

Given the central role of a canine—not just any canine, but a retriever – a comparison to NCSC’s production of Chesapeake is unavoidable. But whereas the Chesapeake Bay retriever in the latter was no less a dramatic and thematic device, the device was used to thread together a tale of high conflict and deep emotion. Unfortunately, the Athena script is simply catty. Viewed another way, you might say that it circles three times, sighs and lies down.

On a more positive note, the play is being directed by Michael MacCauley, a talented member of Asheville’s theater community in addition to being enigmatic’s artistic director. He has recently directed Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at Asheville Community Theatre, composed the score for Gilgamesh for Black Swan Theater and will be seen on stage at Flat Rock Playhouse this fall. The show is being produced by Chall Gray and stars some of Asheville’s best-known actors, including Jonathan Frappier ( It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, NCSC), Stephanie Hickling (The Mystery Plays, ACT) and David Hopes (too many appearances to mention). If talented actors are able to infuse their characters with sufficient edginess and magic, their interaction might drag Athena out of its authorial doghouse.

Now in its fourth year, the Catalyst Series features performances from local, grassroots theater companies. NC Stage collaborates with the indie companies to expand its own programming while providing resources for innovative theater and has repeatedly delivered the goods. Watch for the Xpress review on our A&E blog on Aug. 16 (click here to read review).

The enigmatic theatre company’s production of Athena takes place at North Carolina Stage Company from Tuesday, Aug. 14, through Sunday, Aug. 19. 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. $15/$12. 350-9090.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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4 thoughts on “Dog tired

  1. Concerned for the arts

    Cecil Bothwell’s article entitled “Dog Tired” in the August 8 issue of Mountain Express was so badly observed, I have to speak up. I hope this response will spark more discussion on the unfortunate state of critical writing in the arts. Respect for the form is at an all time low where self-proclaimed critics are published carelessly. Evident by this article, Bothwell would fair better in the opinion section where expertise within the field is irrelevant.

    Bothwell’s superficial, retelling of events based on a script steers readers towards viewing theatre as a one-dimensional, predetermined ideology on the page. Can a live art be criticized solely on its framework? Or is this an instance of the critic attempting to replace the artist? Perhaps this is more likely to be a case of being apprehended for a crime without trial.

    It was certainly a bold move of Bothwell to attempt to “see” this play in his own artistic mind and then to review it based on his psychic ability. One hopes that Mountain Express will get an additional writer, one that isn’t so perplexed by his or her own lack of imagination.

    When offering a preview of a world-premier play, may I suggest interviewing the playwright and the director? Find out what is going on in their artistic minds; we are not interested in the mind of the critic – a too often single and misinformed viewpoint. I would hope that regardless of background, the critic would respect his or her own craft enough to understand their responsibility to all art makers and supporters.

    Lets hope that Bothwell will circle in this and maybe even sigh before he lies down. But it is with greater hope that he will leave this doghouse and exit the haphazard caste system of limiting art criticism. Lets hope that one day art critics will learn the value of creating dialogue rather than blindly perpetuating a paradigm of self-indulgent ignorance.

  2. “Watch for the Xpress review on our A&E;blog on Aug. 16.”

    I’m watching, but I don’t see it. Where is it Cecil?

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