When all else is gone, humans will still have stories to tell and the need to hear them. This premise is central to the plot of dog law by Liz Duffy Adams, in which a woman and her “dog” roam the new post-apocalyptic wasteland of the northeastern United States. Hoping to somehow make it to China.
And yes, it is a comedy despite the dire environment of a world that has succumbed to multiple destructive drives and events: war, pandemic, nationalism. If it looks like today, the good/bad news is this: it was created in 2004.
The Main Street Theater mounted a production of dog law in 2012. This version, directed by Andrew Ruthven, features original cast member Tamara Siler as Zetta Stone, the traveling gambler, as well as Chaney Moore, José Moreno, Trey Morgan Lewis, Shondra Marie and Nathan Wilson.
The dog is a human who has decided to downgrade as a species. When asked how she chose a dog for the role, Adams said several things sparked her idea.
“I had just seen a Wooster Group production. There was a young man playing dog and there was something very nice about it. Around the same time I read Sylvia by [A.R.] Gurney and it pissed me off. It is about a dog named Sylvia and she is intended to be played by a young woman. And I thought that was a terrible, sexist, infuriating play and threw it across the room. I kind of felt like, ‘I’m going to show you how to write a person playing a dog.’
“It might not be very deep sparks, but the fact that dogs are somehow famous for virtues that we like to think are also human virtues but aren’t always. Love, courage and loyalty, open-mindedness and generosity of spirit. Dogs are always there for anything, so I’m drawn to that.
“But the idea of a person removing themselves from the burden of being human was very interesting to me. It’s a desire to escape failed responsibilities that are so heavy. To have responsibility for all that being human involves,” she said.
Dog has a particular reason for withdrawing from humanity and, according to Adams, “to embrace the simplicity and purity of being a working dog. It simplifies what we need to do in life. One of the things about being human is complexity it is and we all struggle with that.”
As the play — and it includes a play within a play — goes on, Zetta and Dog encounter a few scavengers — Bud and Coke — who belong to a pretty rough and dangerous bunch of people, Adams said. They also meet a pair of other vaudevillians who have lost everything and they join forces.
Adams explains that the idea of China – “they’re not clear on the geography – is more of a nice mythical place than a realistic destination. The cities around them have been destroyed but they really don’t know if it’s the case everywhere.
A central question in the play is how people behave under such discouraging circumstances. And it’s not a simple question of right and wrong, right and wrong for Adams.
“How do we live well. How do we live as human beings in a way that is morally, deeply good in an ethical sense?” Zetta is an example of someone who is inherently good. But no one is mean in the room. Everyone just makes their own accommodation.”
Adams is going to be in Houston to see the production. She has been busy since she wrote it with other parts; she will be in rehearsals here for her last piece: born with teeth premiering in May at the Alley Theatre.
“Storytelling is one of those things that makes us human. It’s the original art form. As soon as we had a language, we were telling stories. And the stories were about what happened. We create our sense of ourselves by telling stories and I think that’s really an eternal part of human nature.”
Performances are scheduled for March 26 through April 16 (previews March 20, 24, and 25) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Rice Village at the Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard. Proof of negative COVID test or vaccination record required. Masks optional. For more information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com $36-$55.
The production will also be available for streaming from April 7 to 17. $20 to $40.