It has happened, as we feared. Something (a Trump presidency perhaps?) has brought about the apocalypse. Liz Duffy Adams’ fiercely intelligent DOG ACT (@ Theatre on Fire through April 16th) about the aftermath is named for a vaudeville act because in the (not so) distant future the cream has risen to the top. The arts have triumphed at last. Actors are the treasured survivors. Scavengers roam the scarred countryside, taking and killing prisoners but they’re not allowed to touch theater folk.
Diego Arciniegas’ exquisite production for TOF should be on everyone’s must see list. Adams’ opulent script crackles with energy in the hands of six extraordinary performers. If you saw the Lyric Stage’s production of Adams’ OR, a few years back, you’re familiar with her elegant prose and her resonant references. DOG ACT is overflowing with wild allusions, hilarious neo-Shakespearian repartee and gorgeous harmonies when the actors break into song, as actors through the ages are wont to do.
Adams’ cautionary tale is set in the Northeast of the former U.S.A. Two “vauders,” a charismatic singer/actress (Liz Adams) and a remarkable dog (Stewart Evan Smith) “who doesn’t write but has an impressive command of the language” pull their theatrical cart to the side of what used to be a road to rest. They’re on their way to perform for “the King of China,” not realizing of course where China is or that it probably isn’t a place where “all the people are wise.” They’ve heard tell of a “tall tower of a woman you can climb and look out of her eyes.” It would seem that both history and geography have been obliterated along with a vast portion of the population.
They’re soon joined by two “roadsters” who claim tribal kinship as actors: Vera Similitude (Kaylyn Bancroft) who swears she always “tells the truth” but will “obfuscate style” and her sidekick (Marge Dunn), the “short fused storyteller.” When asked what destruction Vera and Jo-Jo saw up north, they reply that they only reached as far as the “great Canadian barrier wall.” Now I know that Adams wrote her play quite a number of years ago, way before the current political free-for-all, but a wall erected by Canadians to keep us out? It’s positively prescient. And so is naming one of the marauders ‘Coke,’ as in Koch Brothers! (Not Adams’ intent, of course; She’s referring to the relics of our age, unearthed by the clueless scavengers.)
Instead of being bombed “back to the stone age,” the apocalypse has left these survivors in the quasi-Middle Ages. Instead of a medieval Morality Play, the troupe performs a Mortality play to explain as best they can how they came to this sorry state of affairs. Everyone loves a play, including the savage “lost boy” scavengers (Avery Bargar and Tim Hoover), who might have been rude mechanicals if this were a few centuries later. They’re certainly rude and delightfully vulgar.
Adams plays fast and loose with time so that Bargar can sport a WWI leather aviator’s cap and Jo-Jo can carry an Etch-a-Sketch by her side. Erica Desautels’ inventive costumes add yet another layer of discovery to the mix. Eric Hamel’s inspired sound design, too, underscores the catastrophic environmental damage done to the planet. Just before the rapid unnatural climate changes in Adams’ brave new world, the earth belches, sounding like it is being sucked into the vortex. There are so many clever twists and turns, so much rapid wordplay, it’s almost impossible to take in at one sitting. I can’t wait to go back and absorb what I missed the first time.