BWW Review: World Premiere of Chandler Hubbard's Noteworthy ANIMAL CONTROL at Firehouse Theatre
Richmond audiences should not pass up the opportunity to see a world premiere of a new play written by a local actor and playwright. The 2019 recipient of the Martha Hill Newell Playwright's Fund, Chandler Hubbard's ANIMAL CONTROL is smart, witty and intense. The debut at Firehouse Theatre is a strong display of Hubbard's talent, and features some strong performances in spite of staging issues. ANIMAL CONTROL runs through May 11 at Firehouse Theatre.
In ANIMAL CONTROL, Hubbard posits that people are no different than animals. "People are just animals who talk and wear clothes." In this sharp drama, that's just what audiences get-seemingly good people behaving like animals. The structure of Hubbard's script is not unlike a court proceeding. Per the writer's stage notes, "The characters all play defendant, plaintiff, and witness; judge, jury, and executioner."
Following a violent incident at a local dog park, audiences are viewers of a "trial" held at the Carson County Animal Shelter. During "The Prosecution," Marc Hansen (Adam Turck), makes a convincing case, concerning his injured Goldendoodle, to Kim Hawkins (Donna Marie Miller), the recently appointed supervisor of the shelter. Like each of Hubbard's characters, Hawkins is a good person trying to do the right thing. She has also taken the disruptive and smart-mouthed, Generation Z, juvenile delinquent Corrine Lowell (Journey Entzminger) under her tutelage.
While the first scene is a slow burn; it's during "The Defense," where Hawkins hears from the alleged assailant's owner, Dan Stanley (Arik Cullen), that audiences begin to feel the potency of ANIMAL CONTROL. On the surface, Stanley is a threatening and unsympathetic individual; but a deeper examination yields a different perspective. Patty Smith (Lucretia Marie Anderson) is a community member who just wants Mr. Stanley's Pitbull to stop terrorizing the neighborhood. Regardless of the circumstances or motivations that brought everyone together, none of the characters is declared a winner at the affecting conclusion of this debut.
Under the capable direction of Joel Bassin, the five performers are somewhat hindered by an abundance of pregnant pauses and some uneven pacing. An untimely intermission just 30 minutes in takes the air out of any momentum built. The play might be better served with a single intermission following the second scene, giving the audience the chance to hear the prosecution and defense before returning for the final verdict.
Phil Hayes' scenic design sets the claustrophobic tone of the animal shelter's breakroom-turned-office. A single light hanging in the center marks the space an interrogation room. The walls are battered and worn from Emily Hake Massie's effective painting. Bookending Hayes' set are two chain-link fence panels. Lighting seeps through a window and door, to the credit of Andrew Bonniwell's subtle but effective design. Niomi Kaiser's costumes are effective.
Journey Entzminger is wonderfully snarky as Corinne, but her performance is sometimes impeded by unnavigable blocking. Arik Cullin's Dan Stanley is menacing. Lucretia Marie Anderson shines in a pivotal role.
Originating the role of Kim Hawkins, Donna Marie Miller is dynamic and convincing; and effortlessly shows off all the character's insecurities and motivations. Her restrained bearing finally succumbs to frustration during an unfiltered and satisfying outburst in the final scene. Adam Turck is her high-strung and energetic equal as Marc Hanson.
ANIMAL CONTROL is a compelling new play from a promising new playwright and runs through May 11 at Firehouse Theatre.