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.