Review: Dog Act at the Main Street Theater

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Ah, the dystopian world of the future in Liz Duffy Adams dog law, currently stirring its shaggy tale at the Main Street Theatre, eerily resembles the Theater of the Absurd. This particular genre is only tasty for certain connoisseurs. I am not one of them.

Generations after a devastating global calamity, two traveling gamblers, Rozetta Stone (Tamara Siler) and her human dog (Jose E. Moreno), pass through this devastated land en route to China, the land of unbridled luxury and wonder, the legendary repository of all earthly knowledge. Rozetta is assured that there will be a willing and grateful audience waiting for them and their show. Vaudevillians must keep walking and pulling their pageant cart until they get there.

Rozetta is Mother Courage, indomitable through tragedy, persevering through tribulation, eating fish that look like hybrid squirrels – oh my, they’re hybrid squirrels, mutated through the centuries – forever carrying the stories that she knows in a mutilated patois that is unique to her. Language and legends have also mutated. “Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot” morphed into “Sing Yo, Street Harriet”; everyone knows the words. The climate is changing all the time. Winter one day, summer sizzling the next, spring shining the next. Warring tribes and bestial antagonists lie in wait there. But she must continue. Known to us for her belt-to-balcony performances at the Paul Hope Cabarets, Siler has a presence to spare, great warmth and immediate likability. It is a large Rozetta, imposing and solid, sweet and maternal. You would follow her to the end of the world if she asked you.

The dog is more literal and literate. He speaks in beautiful language. He’s still a dog, or a wannbe dog (see the play for that), as he growls and barks and snuggles up to Rozetta for a head massage. He immediately smells trouble, is alert, and is a loyal companion and theater partner. He is the only “talking dog” in existence, a surefire crowd pleaser. In his leather Minnesotan fleece hat with earflaps, Moreno makes an exceptional dog. It does so much more and is unquestionably the best in the show. Watch how he curls up by the fire, see his fierce and true reactions to what’s going on, he’s done everything but scratch the fleas. This is Moreno’s Main Street debut and he’s a keeper. Whoever is in charge of throwing it gets a gold star.

Rozetta and Dog are surprised in the woods by another pair of traveling actors, or so they say, Vera Similarity (Shondra Marie) and Jo Jo the Bald-Faced Liar (Chaney Moore). Vera is very appropriate, speaking with eloquent phrases, whispered cadences and well-balanced sentences. She hasn’t forgotten anything about culture, it seems. Jo Jo has no culture. She is the dangerous one, we think at first, quick to flame, because she loves her knives and violence of all kinds. Is she really a showman? We will find out later.

But first, we’re introduced to the Shakespearian “rough mechanics,” Coke and Bud, (Trey Morgan Lewis and Nathan Wilson). They are the scavengers of what remains on earth, rude, mean, stealing anything, enslaving everyone. In a Shakespearian rhythm, they speak only swear words, “Fuck” being their favorite word. If you thought “Pussy” was overused in Clare Barron’s Dance Nation at Rec Room Arts last January, you ain’t heard nothing yet. They do everything but burp and fart.

Adams is a smart writer, she knows what she’s doing, but I think she completely misses the mark with these two hicks. When the thugs burst in wearing license plate shoulder pads, inset chest armor, and crowns made of, what else, Coke and Budweiser, their shtick is oddly alarming, somewhat funny, but it quickly becomes numb, then annoyed. I can only understand Adams warning us of what we’ll become if we don’t up our own game here, right now – an epithet springing from nothing. She may very well be right, but both of these characters are well past their sell-by date. Director Andrew Ruthven has a keen eye for detail and growing tension, but there’s nothing he can do to fix the problem with the obnoxious Coke and Bud.

The play occasionally pauses for eccentric monologues, except for Dog’s recitation of heartfelt love poetry, which fills in some of the gruesome history of the past, or narrates vignettes like a deranged Aesop, or a bit of vaudevillian’s representative, The Mortality Play, which is a zip-drive mashup of biblical stories. Like the Renaissance morality play of its day, Rozetta’s drama reformed itself into the mortality play of the present age.

There’s a subterranean sense of dread that subtly emerges, while Afsaneh Aayani’s graffiti-laden decor with its twisted rusty ironwork and Victoria Nicolette Gist’s ‘found’ clothing choices evoke a world in ruins. Sad to say, steampunk and leather goth will still be in fashion for centuries to come.

Despite all the death and decay swirling around them, Rozetta and Dog are blessed with a sweet ending. They will march to China at all costs. So there is hope after all in this damn world of the future, full of crass crass, deceitful people (I’m talking to you, Vera) and mindless greed. Adams believes that our redemption lies in the theater, in the stories we tell, in a shared, even confused and confused memory. She may be right. I’m not sure she says it that convincingly in this piece.

[I know I’m right. For there was a real dog in the audience Saturday night. A magnificent German shepherd service dog. It stayed remarkably calm during the loud parts, but started to squirm during the lulls. Near the end, it fled with owner in tow. It knew. It should talk to Adams and teach her some new tricks.]

Dog Act continues until April 16. at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday 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 to $55.

The production will also be available for streaming from April 7-17. $20 to $40.

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