Friday, February 11, 2011


Photo/Isaiah Tanenbaum
After the apocalypse, long past our scavenging and regression to a Clockwork Orange-meets-Shakespeare argot ("In a mutant’s anus, thou quark-witted son of a three-eyed stump-licker"), the few people who will pass unmolested through the land are, of course, vaudevillians. Through the mystifying yet enthralling first act of Dog Act, one might be tempted to ask Liz Duffy Adams for an explanation of this cardinal rule, but as they put on their morality play, the reason becomes clear: if nobody preserves the past, even if but to derive entertainment from it, then there is no meaning to the present and no point to the future. (Consider, too, what they preserve: one of their acts is "The Tableau of Human Tenderness.") Time and time again, Rozetta Stone (Lori E. Parquet) and her faithful Dog (Chris Wight) face extinction; time and time again, they are saved from self-slaughter by their ability to cheer one another up with song and story, "unfettered by any fanatical reverence for facts."

With the plot's "why" out of the way, we turn to the "what"; with their ensemble so diminished, Zetta decides to allow two wandering vaudevillians to "patch" their way into her troupe: Jo-Jo the Bald-Faced Liar (Becky Byers) and Vera Similitude (Liz Douglas), who only speaks the archest of truthes: "You may have absolute confidence in the meaning of my content, but you must forgive me my elaborations of form, my dear. When only truth may be told, obfuscation of style is very strongly advised." In turn, Jo-Jo, a feral, snarling creature, is pursued by two testosterone-driven scavengers, alpha-male Coke (Zack Robidas) and his scrappy competitor Bud (Julian Stetkevych), so named -- like the god of their "religion," Wendy -- after the familiar brands of a long-lost time. This being the end of the world, however, Dog Act isn't particularly interested in the destination -- the joke is that they're "walking" from North America to China -- so much as it is in the characters; can there be peace and trust in such dire times? More importantly, if in fact Vera knows why this man has declared himself a Dog, can there be forgiveness?

So far as plots go, Dog Act is admittedly built around a variety of tricks and acts, and the second act, with its distorted retelling of the past, is far less novel than the first. (A rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" -- "Sing yo, street Harriet" -- is particularly redundant.) There's a danger, too, of getting lost in Adams's text, which can be artful in both senses of the word; then again, Adams's play notes that, when all is said and done, we must rely on people, not words, to tell the story, a point well illustrated by Jo-Jo's moral-less recitals of old fables about foxes and wolves. And in that, Flux Theatre Ensemble does a fine job: Parquet and Wight share a terrific chemistry, the sort that can sum up a history in a few sidelong glances; Robidas and Stetkevych make for an aggressively comic duo; Douglas does a fine job of coating her vulnerabilities with her manipulations; and Byers is once again shows her not-to-be-underestimated strengths (see Craven Monkey, The Little One), stealing the show with her one-track manias and unstable emotions.

Most impressive -- and practically worth its own review, given all the intricacies that went into it -- is Jason Paradine's set -- Zetta's giant cart - which serves as a colorful repository of the meaningless elements of the past (like an iBook) and an unfurling stage for the indefatigable presence of the present. Likewise, Lara de Bruijn's costumes are the best-looking clothes, despite and because of their patchwork nature, that Flux has ever had, for they provide the characters with both apocalyptic context and basic utility in a time that skips in flashes from winter to summer and back. Dog Act suffices as an entertaining reminder that all the world's a stage, and while its drama may rely too heavily on tricks, it is at least more than a one-trick one-dog show.

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