Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Dog Act is Saved by Good Acting
Shotgun Players, who usually opens their productions in Berkeley, decided to stage the world premiere of Liz Duffy Adams' Dog Act at the Thick House in San Francisco. Liz Duffy Adams, one of the Bay Area's newest avant guard playwrights, has written a very confusing play with a lot of words and speeches on the order of an Albee or Becket play. As Shakespeare says, it's "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Dog Act's six actors are excellent, and they do what they can with the playwright's work. The program says the fable is a post-apocalyptic vaudeville piece. There is competition, betrayal and strange unstable seasons that suddenly change from summer to winter to spring. The characters speak in mutated phrases. One character speaks with some of the largest words that can be found in the Oxford dictionary.
Dog Act centers around Rozette Stone (Beth Donohue) and her talking dog (Richard Bolster), who are vaudevillians traveling the ravished countryside. The one-wheel Medieval cart says "Rozette Stone Traveling Vaudeville currently under contract The King of China." We discover that a cataclysmic event has occurred in the world, making this country now full of tribes, such as Lone Star Army, invading the Casino Nation. There is talk of various tribes in the north, south and west who are fighting each other. America has resorted to a Stone Age situation. There is a great wall that apparently has separated the states from Canada.
Rozette and dog are trying to travel west to China. Along the way, they meet Vera Similitude (C. Dianne Manning) and her sidekick JoJo, the Bald Faced Liar (Rami Margron). They all join forces and go into a city that has been devastated by a tribe. There we find secrets of the dog and Vera that I won't reveal.
Dog Act also has two very interesting characters called Coke and Bud, who are dressed in costumes that are part Viking and part Hell's Angels. These characters use the "f" word constantly; it is repeated at least 100 times in the speech. Coke even gets a little Shakespearean at the end. These two hunters are members of a leader called Wendy which I get the impression is supposed to be a put-on of Wendy's Hamburger joints.
The group goes through sly rituals and long soliloquies that ramble on about hope, love and the current situation in a post-apocalyptic world. Dog gives a long soliloquy about love (at least I think it is about love). I am reminded of the long speech in Chekov's Sea Gull, in which the son talks about the play he has written and his mother replies "what was that about?" Rosetta speaks a language in which the words are transposed, and it sounds like a weird hip hop language. Jo Jo breaks out in long machine gun rapid patter about a fable or a story. All is done in a monotone voice.
The whole ensemble displays good acting chops, especially Beth Donohue and C. Dianne Manning. Ms. Manning's speech is very literary and she is excellent in the role, while Ms. Donohue plays the rebel wild spirit to the hilt with her strange inverted speech. Richard Bolster is very good as the dog - even though I have no idea what that soliloquy is about, it is well presented. Rami Margron is first rate as the Bald Faced Liar, who acts like a juvenile delinquent just out of a women's prison. Both Eric Burns as Coke and Dave Maier as Bud are fine as hunters under the spell of the great "Wendy."
The cart is the center piece of the production, and it is a work of art. It looks like a cart that the miracle plays actors would use during Medieval times; it opens up during the last 15 minutes of the play while the players present a morality play starting with Adam and Eve called "Adam and Eve Evolutionary Comedy," and Beth Donahoe breaks into a song called "The Human Blues" using a street cone for a megaphone. Things get a little mixed when they start "The Tower or Tragedy of the Fall," which relates to the Tower of Babel.
Dog Act is at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco through September 19. It moves to the Shotgun's new theatre called The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave, Berkeley from September 23 through October 10th.