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Dog Act Review: Claudia La Rocco, New York Times

Saturday, February 12, 2011 Leave a Comment

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured:Zack Robidas, Becky Byers, Julian Stetkevych)

In a way, I completely understand where Claudia La Rocco is coming from (oh, her review in The New York Times is out). The first time I encountered the play, way back at the 2002 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, I loved it, but harbored reservations about some of its comic extremities; and thought the play might work better if it crashed at the end, instead of pulling up its nose at the last miraculous instant.

Of course, I was wrong. I was still of an age then where I thought seriousness meant suffering and complexity meant confusion. But as I lived with the play, turning it over and over in my mind, it nagged at me (like the sea does the land, Mam) and changed me. I saw the silliness of the play as a gambit towards a deeper seriousness. I learned (and am still learning) that true complexity is as clear as the surface of water; seemingly simple, until it's touched a little, and then it reshapes its meaning endlessly.

After we read through the play at our 2006 retreat, I saw Dog Act for what it really is: not just an entertaining play, but a necessary one, saying something unique about how we survive - that "implacability of the life force", as Wendy Caster put it. It is much closer to Waiting For Godot than Cormac McCarthy's The Road (an odd inclusion for a smart reviewer); Dog Act is an heir and possible answer to Beckett's unanswerable end of a play.

Any response to a Times review must reckon with its (alleged) outsize influence. In producing this play that has obsessed me for nearly ten years, I did so in part because I needed to see it, and needed to share it with the audience I love. But I also wanted to help move the play into that contested territory we call the canon, to be produced again and again; not just because I think Dog Act deserves it, but because I think we need this play right now. I'm grateful the Times came, but disappointed this well-written review wasn't the rave that might have made that fate more possible.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of scrambled seasons from now, La Rocco revises her opinion; either from seeing a more perfect production, or from having the play nag at her mind as it did mine. And I'm not so worried about the play's future: as Dog Act reminds us, in the end it is the players themselves who determine what plays live on, and what plays are forgotten. I think Dog, Zetta, Vera, Jo-Jo and our foul-mouthed scavenger friends are too irresistible a temptation to play to stay dark for long.

After all, Zetta and her cart have survived scavengers, critters, hunger, bad water, earthquakes, plagues, and our moon falling away into darkness; she can survive a production that wears its heart on the hilt; and she can shake off a middling review like sweeping a half eaten squish from her plate.

Or at least, I very much hope she can. We're not the first to move this cart of "the sacred-freaking-flame of the olden days and ways" forward; and I pray we will not be the last. Years from now, when Claudia and I are broken up to spare parts (praise our usefulness!), it does me good to think Dog and Zetta will still be walking to China, carrying their unique and necessary hope along with them.

So, read the whole review here, then get your tix, and then leave your own thoughts on the play here.


  • macrogers said:  

    I'm afraid I disagree about the quality of the review. I haven't seen the show yet (seeing it tonight), but to me, this reads ike a reviewer who couldn't get their thoughts into coherent shape before their deadline. I can't follow any thread of argument here. I'm not saying the Times owes you a good review (though there are compliments throughout), I'm saying the Times owes you at least a second draft.

  • Anonymous said:  

    I agree with the review where it says the play is entertaining, and the language was given room to shine forth:

    "As directed by Kelly O’Donnell, the production works overtime to entertain. Whatever can be played to the hilt is, so that Ms. Adams’s more enjoyable bursts of layered language are given little breathing room."

    Characters like Zetta and Jo-Jo are unusually rich with entertaining possibilities.

    But I agree with Gus that the play handles complex themes, and it is too bad the reviewer didn't see that.

    -- lawrence

  • Aliza said:  

    I admit, I am not well-versed in the conventions of theatre reviews, but what disturbs me about this one is the snide (am I wrong?) tone of the reviewer. Blech.

    Like it, don't like it, tell us why... but don't hide behind the 'tude.

    Just my humble opinion :)