Liz Douglas, Lori E. Parquet, Becky Byers, & Chris Wight in Dog Act. Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.
BOTTOM LINE: Dog Act is an innovative, playfully dark comedy that will romance your love for the magic of theatre.
Liz Duffy Adams’ Dog Act is, above all, a play about preserving humanity in the face of deprivation and loss. The downfall of society does not mean the downfall of man. This touching play follows Zetta (Lori E. Parquet) and Dog (Chris Wight), a traveling vaudevillian troupe of two, as they make their way across the barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once the United States. They are walking east, pursuing a gig in China, towing their cart behind. There is a lovely Waiting for Godot quality to this hopeless prospect.
With only each other to rely on, the troupe encounters and takes in beleaguered Vera (Liz Douglas) and Jo-Jo (Becky Byers), the remnants of yet another vaudevillian troupe who have lost their cart and crew. Unbeknownst to them, their progress is threatened by wasteland scavengers who are in close pursuit.
But the real drama lies between Dog and Vera, who early on recognize one another and a shared, forgotten past. Dog is in hiding, going so far as to give up his humanity through a voluntary species demotion. He is ‘putting on the dog’ in shame, as it were, and the past is catching up with his act.
Dog Act is a play for people who love theatre: its history, its ritual and the sheer joy of playing. Flux Theatre Ensemble’s production does what good theatre does best, it allows the audience to invest in the play with individual imaginations.
The design elements provide enough to shape the outlines of time and space. The soundscape captures the vast atomic nothingness through which the characters scratch out their existence. Every so often, the piercing scream of a bird highlights the deadliness of the empty land. The lighting is elegantly simple, with a beautiful final cue that evokes our heroes riding off into the sunset. The stage is bare, but for a massive cart that has enough style to be its own character and awaken the child within. Seeing Dog tow it on stage is to be greeted by a rolling, magical Gypsy treasure chest. It is bedecked and jam-packed with invented musical instruments, doodads and fanciful objects to ensnare the senses and tantalize the imagination. More importantly it is a repository of the bones of human culture and an unfolding stage for the troupe’s jigs, music and morality plays.
The costumes are equally imaginative, rendered by Lara de Bruijn. Parquet wears Zetta’s carnival sideshow barker ensemble well as she stylishly riffs on Adams’ poetry. She strikes angular poses, shakes her jazz hands, and has a big, expressive face that welcomes you to the show. Wight plays Dog alternatively as an energetic Snoopy-like sidekick and a sympathetic puppy. Together they romp around the stage, encouraging one another with song and dance. They are armed only with their craft. With stories, songs and dance they captivate, entertain and fight for their very survival.
Adams’ dialogue captures a dead world by cobbling together the vestiges of culture through dialogue, which is equal parts Shakespearian cant and Creole jive. The language is big and does not always suit more modern acting styles. If the production has a weakness, it is here. Sometimes the actors stumble as they try to switch between carrying the stylized speech of showmen and a more naturalistic style, with which they seem more comfortable. This kind of vaudevillian, poetic speech is a little bigger than realism and fundamentally different than our modern theatre.
That being said, Flux Theatre Ensemble’s production of Dog Act still delivers. Byers, as Jo-Jo the Bald-Faced Liar, gives a hilarious feral performance with apoplectic storytelling. However Douglas, as Vera Similitude, steals the show. She struts around as a vicious, painted-up tart, strikes poses, then wobbles a little. She delivers convoluted truths with an “obfuscation of style,” gets some laughs for it, and later strikes a balance with some much needed emotional depth.
Dog Act takes off in a ferocious attack, and when it finally catches up with itself in the second act, it pays off. This is a play that revels in theatre and storytelling, viscerally imparting a message about its ritual power to build community and restore humanity through primal arts.
(Dog Act plays at Flamboyan Theater at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, 107 Suffolk Street at Rivington, through February 20, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM, and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students) and are available at fluxtheatre.org or by calling 866.811.4111. For more info visit fluxtheatre.org.)
Read the Theasy interview with Flux here.