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LA Theater Review

D Is for Dog

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This curious sci-fi fantasy, written by Katie Polebaum and based on an idea by director Sean T. Cawelty, is set in a mysterious future after a hideous but undefined nuclear disaster. The day was seemingly saved by the all-encompassing Conservancy Corporation, whose motto is "Building a Better Tomorrow…Today." Life has become a strange simulacrum of a 1950s sitcom, complete with commercials for Maxwell House Coffee and Aunt Jemima Pancakes.

Perky blond housewife Mrs. Rogers (Nina Silver) presides over her seemingly perfect world in a cute yellow, white, and blue kitchen, designed by Polebaum. But there's something odd about the setup. The view outside the window is computer-generated, and Mrs. Rogers and her 7-year-old twins, Dick and Jane (played by adult actors Michael Scott Allen and Taylor Coffman), apparently never set foot outside their house. A bizarre sunlamp, with a raucous soundtrack, emerges from a cupboard to provide them with Vitamin D, and the kids are being schooled at home. Mrs. Rogers distributes pills for every occasion, while she seems to rely on the potent blue ones to keep her going. And Mr. Rogers (Guy Birtwhistle) goes off every morning to his job at the Conservancy Corporation. Their eerily placid lives are punctuated by ominous phone calls, strange misshapen visitors, and the arrival of a very unhappy dog, the last surviving animal.

To say more about the plot would be playing the spoiler. Suffice it to say that the corporation is not as benevolent as it seems, and neither is the brightly colored sitcom life. Polebaum and Cawelty seem to regard the play as a vision of a dystopian future, but what it calls to mind, for this viewer, is the behavior of high-ranking Nazi leaders and their wives when the end of World War II forced them to realize that Hitler's indestructible thousand-year Reich was a sham and a delusion.

The play is cleverly constructed, though it takes a long time to get where it's going, and the fantasy elements lend excitement. The Bunraku-style puppets, voiced and manipulated by black-clad actors Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer, and created by a whole cadre of designers, are genuinely disturbing and highly theatrical.

The actors are skillful, and their performances are stylish, but the fact that, aside from tormented Mr. Rogers, the characters are patently and intentionally unreal limits their creative possibilities. The play is intriguing and provocative, but its ultimate meaning(s) are murky and unclear.   

Presented by Rogue Artists Ensemble at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A. July 1–Aug. 7. Fri– Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 8 p.m. (213) 596-9468. www.rogueartists.org

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