Living through a pandemic has inspired multiple productions about post-apocalyptic terrors, but not many are as satisfying or oddly hopeful as Liz Duffy Adams’ Dog Act. Blood-thirsty Scavengers may wander what’s left of the United States. But here there are also bands of traveling performers, known as Vaudevillians, who are a protected community. This tribe includes Zetta and Dog who are making their way on foot to China, pulling a cheery cart full of costumes and hoping to reach a new audience with their songs and stories. Their journey is derailed when they encounter a fellow artiste, Vera, and her traveling companion JoJo, a professional liar/storyteller with a violent streak.
The talented cast performs via Zoom in front of illustrator Laura Bonacci’s artfully sculpted dystopian landscape. Below them appears the entrancing gaze of Weronika Helena Wozniak’s narrator. The effect binds the actors to the space better than most online productions and attracts attention from even the most Zoom-weary of audience members. William Ketter is a stand-out as the analytical Dog, drawing on his previous experience in Animal Farm to skillfully blend the ticks and traits of canine and man. Brandon Walker — who also conceived the menacing sound design — slyly dominates the stage area as the wily Vera. Hailey Vest’s JoJo seems highly influenced by Daryl Hannah’s Bladerunner replicant, with anger bubbling at the surface and faint sweeter memories running beneath. Robin Friend and Jon L. Peacock are suitably tough and rough edged as Scavengers Bud and Coke. Functioning as a metronome keeping the actors in time with each other is director Erin Cronican taking on the role of Zetta.
Adams’ plot unwinds leisurely, as she carefully fleshes out the necessary backstories. Disquieting seasonal changes, earth tremors, and squirrel fish (“Squish”) are signposts along the bleak route. Similar to Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, stories and songs have undergone an eery transformation as they’ve been passed along, with flecks of everything from Shakespeare to Abbott and Costello jumbled together. As an added challenge, each character speaks a slightly different language reflective of their past and society’s evolution. Entertaining Zetta uses Southern slang and French, scholarly Vera often incorporates definitions, and the Scavengers sling curses more swiftly than their knife blades.
Ultimately Dog Act is fittingly an exploration of loyalty and the bonds that can be formed by circumstance. If you’ve watched your circle of friends evolve during lockdown, this progression will feel familiar whether or not you also have a faithful four legged companion in your life. A live stream will be performed on Wednesday, February 3, at 7:00PM ET. A YouTube recording is also available until 11:59 PM that evening. Running time is 2 hours plus a 10-minute Intermission, and a short talkback with the cast and creative team follows each reading. A conversation with Liz Duffy Adams is scheduled for 7:00 PM ET Thursday. Tickets can be purchased through Ovation at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34676 with profits supporting the food bank at St. Clements Church in New York City. To learn more about The Seeing Place, visit https://www.seeingplacetheater.com.
If your little one is feeling cooped up this holiday, I encourage you to take them for a Zoom visit with Xavi. She’s a creative young spirit and the central character of Journey Around My Bedroom, a puppet show presented by New Ohio Theatre for Young Minds. Like many children who have been isolated by the pandemic, Xavi is bouncing off the walls with boredom. Instead of being stuck at home, she wants to use her homemade wings and fly to the moon. With encouragement from her mother and an explorer who pays a visit all the way from 18th century France, Xavi learns to use her imagination to expand her space and take a trip within the safety of home.
The enchanting production is specifically designed to work over Zoom and can bring family members from different locations together for a shared experience. At intervals, audience members are given the opportunity to turn on their cameras and microphones and participate in Xavi’s travels. Willing volunteers help her find the right tools in her toy chest and sing a song of encouragement to help her overcome her fears. Post-show, they can ask the performers questions and take a look behind the scenes. The at-home packet in the show program includes a printable template to make a self-styled puppet and map in order for kids to continue the story in their own way.
Dianne Nora developed the plot line from the writings of Xavier de Maistre, produced when he was under house arrest. From the seeds of his unusual books, Nora has grown a charming story that easily incorporates lessons about bravery and appreciation and contains just enough maturity to keep supervising adults engaged. De Maistre literally drops into Xavi’s life when his balloon makes an unexpected landing in her bedroom, connecting the two adventurers.
The up-cycled cardboard puppets, meticulously designed by Myra Reavis with Ana M. Aburto, are similar to those used in Victorian toy theatre. Held together with brads so that they bend at the joints, they are assisted in their movement by outside hands that surprisingly never distract. Even Xavi’s dog Joseph is given distinct personality. Close-ups are achieved with larger cutouts of specific body parts and props. Miniature set pieces are organized on three separate stages that visually lead from one to the other. The distanced cast members appear to interact with clever cutting between cameras as directed by Jaclyn Biskup. Original songs and music by Hyeyoung Kim add to the joyful atmosphere.
Spoken word artist Starr Kirkland is our welcoming guide, appearing both as herself and as M. de Maistre. Giving voice to Xavi is Ashley Kristeen Vega whose upbeat warmth inspired one little girl in my audience to practically bounce into the performance. Rounding out the team is multi-hyphenate Laura Kay who subdues her comic chops and grounds the storytelling as the narrator and Xavi’s mother.
This imaginative production of Journey Around My Bedroom — fitting for this peculiar year — runs an attention-holding 35 minutes. Best viewed on a laptop or desktop, it’s being offered as a live stream on weekends thru January 11. This format will best suit outgoing children who will enjoy the interaction, as well as parents with flexible schedules. After the conclusion of the initial run, a prerecorded version of the show will be available on demand until February 11. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Will (suggested price is $25 for up to two viewers) and can be purchased through Ovationtix: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1033538 for live performances and https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/store/34708/alldonations/35894/dept/1499 for on demand.