Entertainment » Theatre

D is for Dog

by Trevor Thomas
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Jul 30, 2011
Nina Silver and Taylor Coffman in D is for Dog
Nina Silver and Taylor Coffman in D is for Dog  (Source: Kris Bicknell)

I have done our readers a disservice by not getting to "D is for Dog" until nearly the end of its run, and I apologize. You only have until August 7 to get to the Studio/Stage Theater at 520 N. Western and see this astonishing play. In a word: GO.

Sci-fi's usual dramatic medium is film where technical wizardly so often manages to overcome abysmal writing (q.v. James Cameron's "Avatar"). By contrast, successful sci-fi plays exist in an arena where Gee Whiz cannot mask C writing. The closest example of the kind of conceptual brilliance found in Kate Polebaum's play is Rod Serling's "The Twlight Zone" series, and as was the case in so many of those episodes, "D is for Dog" unfolds in a claustrophobiac milieu where sci-fi otherworldliness amplifies the story's poignancy by making the commonplace extraordinary.

Rogue Artist's achievement with this production was nailed by my companion, an accomplished poet, who put it far better than I could and with the enviable succinctness of her art: on the way out she remarked that is not just the writing of "D is for Dog" that makes it such a superb piece of work, but its "righting" -- casting, design and conception that here coalesce seamlessly to produce a work of great originality and power.

In a post-apocalyptic world, humanity is divided between the haves and have-nots. The former live in a separate place, a world designed for them by the all-encompassing Conservation Corporation that tends to their needs by providing a regulated and pleasant computer driven 1950s-style existence replete with pills of many colors to get them over the rough spots: yellow pills to cure your ills, and blue ones for your pains.

Little hints abound that beneath the surface calm of Eisenhower-era complacency hide design flaws in the program which cannot code around the anarchic variables of human longing. Daughter Jane (Taylor Coffman) is seven and adorable. And nuts. Son Dick (Michael Scott Allen) is hyper-curious about the world beyond his front door, a door forbidden him by his father (Guy Birtwhistle), a sweet and loving family man suffering a crisis of doubt about his work for the Corporation.

Mother (Nina Silver) tends to her family with the ├╝ber-cheerfulness of a Donna Reed or June Cleaver - holding on to routine with a pit bull's determination. She lives for the ceremonies of daily life, her every move and mood choreographed to the rhythm of days and nights that unfold with clockwork regularity on the computer screen that forms the virtual kitchen window through whose lace curtains she sees a world the Corporation designed to imitate reality.

The family's safe haven comes slowly apart. Trying to satisfy his children's curiosity, Mr. Rogers makes dangerous contact with the strange mutant creatures that inhabit the surface of the nuclear-wasted planet to help him find a children's book that might show the kids what animals once were. C is for Cat, you see, and D is for Dog. Once its wafer-thin veneer is scratched, his virtual world turns out to be every bit as fragile as the real one was, and in the famous phrase of William Butler Yeats, the center cannot hold.

The quartet of actors that comprises the Rogers family is absolutely stunning in the fullness of their individual realizations. The intruders are portrayed by puppets masterfully animated by Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer. Rogue Theater's trademark technical genius is on display in every discipline, but special compliments must be paid to video designers Sean T. Cawelti, Muhammad Saleh and Matthew G. Hill, to composers John Nobori and Ben Phelps, the former also credited for sound design, and to Mr. Cawelti again for his masterful staging of this piece. Bravo, all!

Did I say this before? GO!!!

Performances through August 7. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western, Los Angeles. For tickets, visit www.rogueartists.org

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