Familiar story told in inventive way

By Shari Goldstein Stern

You can always count on Theatre Three (T3) to bring unique, interesting, one-of-a-kind work to its stage. Usually fresh, often quirky, many titles are brand new to most. “Big, Scary Animals” (BSA) is no different, and especially on the quirky side.

The cast of “Big, Scary Animals” at Theatre Three through Sept. 25.
Photo by Jeffrey Schmidt

Not to fret: there are no scary animals except the elephant in the room. There is some scary stuff here, though. It’s the conversations. Some are anywhere from reluctant to uncomfortable, opposed to downright scared to talk about with some people — or with anyone. The LGBTQ theme is expected at Uptown Players, whose mission is to bring clarity, education  and acceptance of the community. It isn’t a theme that is central to T3, but it is widely appreciated when it is.

Such is the case with “Big, Scary, Animals,” running through Sept. 25 at the newly remodeled T3. The show is not only fresh, but also pristine, with an inventive way of telling a familiar story. 

Rhonda and Don are a mature, married couple who are moving to an area closer to their daughter’s home in Dallas’ Cedar Springs. They are looking forward to dinner with their daughter’s friends, a couple living nearby. Almost immediately after Marcus and Clark answer the door, the stepping-on-feet begins.

Donald, played by Bob Reed, seems only bored while along for the ride. On the other hand, Charlotte Akin as his perky wife, Rhonda, is all over the place, both physically and verbally. 

The number of racist insults flying from her mouth rival how many feathers drop from her beloved chicken collection. She can’t get past their difference in color. When she realizes they are also a couple, the temperature rises exponentially. Although she attempts to be cool and savvy, she fails.

Bob Reed as Donald reveals every teeth-gritting moment he’s living through convincingly as his nit-wit spouse rambles on. There’s only one way to describe her: stupid. But Rhonda is a joy to watch as she flits around the room in her rooster vest. 

Marcus’ facial expression alone fill the stage. Atuba’s performance starts out a little weak with limited personality. He does tighten up later into a raging bull and even engages in an unlikely fist fight with Donald.

Jeffrey Schmidt’s clever set is effective as a middle American, suburban apartment anywhere, in this case Dallas’ Oak Lawn. He has an ingenious way of turning one living room sofa into two — one for each apartment. Guess whose half is covered with plastic?

BSA playwright Matt Lyle is a writer, actor and director originally from East Texas who now lives in Dallas.

“Big, Scary Animals” will run through Sept. 25 at Theatre Three in the Quadrangle at 2688 Laclede St., Dallas, 75201. This is a new address at Theatre Three’s same location. Performances will be evenings at 8 p.m. with Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2:30 p.m.