A few weeks ago when I interviewed playwright Liz Duffy Adams about her new play, Dog Act, now playing at the Flamboyan Theatre, she told me “I love stories about how people recreate social/political systems and civilization in the midst of catastrophe, and protect human culture through the darkest of times. So having the central characters be performers who are the sole source of art in a very dark future seemed exciting to me, and potentially theatrical.” In a nutshell, this is what Ms. Adams set out to do, and it is exactly what she did. Under Kelly O’Donnell’s masterful direction Dog Act manages to artfully combine the darkness and desolation of a lost world with the lightness and hope that is the very spirit of the theatre – be it vaudeville or otherwise.
The advantage of creating a world which no one has ever experienced before is that there are no rules which can be broken. And so, in this world of Adams’ we have a society where it’s possible for a man to exist in servitude as a dog, a society where a Vaudevillian is as sacred and off-limits to the tribe of cannibals as the cows in India, and a world where seasons change at whim, in no particular order, and with no particular pattern. Tribes have aligned themselves according to rules which simply worked out that way. Although alliances may be forged quickly, with very little to base them on, you’re playing fast and loose with your future by choosing to trust the hand that is stretched out before you in friendship.
When we come upon Zetta Stone (played with sparkle, charm and just a bit of mischief by Lori E. Parquet) she is with her Dog (Chris Wight) travelling along the desolate roads on the way to what they hope will be their salvation – in this case: China. Through conversation we find that their troupe was bigger at one time but the harshness of the wandering life caused their company to splinter; now all that remains is Dog, Zetta, and their determination to get to China. Zetta is unflinching in her quest, and it is here where she resembles a Don Quixote of sorts (albeit far less mad), not so much tilting at windmills but rather tapping across plains, playing the spoons, and singing upbeat songs of high-hoped hereafter.
Of course, into each life a little rain must fall – and this rain comes in the form of Vera Similitude (Liz Douglas) and her wild companion, Jo-Jo the Bald-Faced Liar (Becky Byers) who are obviously not Vaudevillians but are passing themselves off as such in order to keep moving safely. Stir these four together, each with their quirks, habits and secrets and the plot begins to bubble up, revealing hidden forks in the road. Ultimately, where they all end up is precisely where they were meant to be. But how they get there . . . well, that’s the Dog Act.
Adams’ script, as well as her story, have an innate rhythm and melody which is captured uniquely by each member of the cast. Whereas Parquet’s Zetta is the smooth, flowing underscore which unites the scenes and holds the play together, Wight’s Dog provdes the deeper, more mournful tones which bring you to the dark spots of this land’s history and culture. His story is aching and bittersweet – a good man with a bad past. Douglas’ Vera provides the dissonance – alluring and proud themes covering a side to her character which is not so much evil as it is bent on survival at any cost. If this means a bit of deception, or even a bit of dissection – well, what’s a woman to do? And Byers’s Jo-Jo crackles throughout like the crash of a cymbal – she is electric not only when performing her monologues, but even when sitting to the side, muttering. A bit like Lord Of The Ring’s Gollum, she is the young product of what this new world has created. Kelly O’Donnell’s intuitive direction intertwines these melodies to orchestrate the landscape of Adams’ Dog Act and deliver a fully realized, perfectly created piece of theatre.
Capped off by Lara de Bruijn’s costumes, which manage to both mimic and create fashion simultaneously, and Jason Paradine’s set design – which includes a wagon that, at times, nearly steals the show – the universe of Dog Act is complete.
For any of you who keep wondering – Is there a Dog? The answer is: yes. Dog does exists. Go to the Flamboyan Theater and see for yourself.
~~~Dog Act written by Liz Duffy Adams directed by Kelly O’Donnell . Playing now through February 20, 2011 Tue at 7PM, Wed-Sat at 8PM, Sun at 3PM . Flamboyan Theater at the Clemente Solo Velez Cultural & Educational Center 107 Suffolk Street New York, NY Click Here for tickets