Over the last few years in particular, streaming theater has developed into a genuine and distinct art form. Done right, it marries the excitement of attending a singular event in person with a profound level of intimacy. Many shows have traveled well from one medium to the other. Some — like MCC’s Space Dogs — are arguably even better viewed up close and personal.
Developed and performed by actors/musicians Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire, Space Dogs covers in impressive detail the story behind the early days of the Space Race. In order to learn the effects of lower gravity and increased radiation on life, Russia’s Sputnik program took 40 stray dogs off the streets of Moscow and used them for testing. The most famous of these is Laika, who was the first animal to orbit the Earth. But Space Dogs takes great care to honor each and every one of these four-legged heroines. (Yes, they were all female.)
Anyone familiar with Laika’s story will be aware that this tale doesn’t have a happy ending. However, there is still a great deal of joy to be experienced throughout the show’s 90 minute running time. Against a six paneled projection wall designed by Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch, the good-natured and talented duo guided by stage director Ellie Heyman fly through dozens of roles with high-energy and knowing winks. Among his line-up, Blaemire gives gentle voice to Laika, an unwitting participant to scientific history. And as part of his array, Hughes takes on the role of Sergei Korolev, known contemporaneously only as The Chief Designer, portraying him as a man torn between his compassion for his trusting “volunteer” and the hectic pace and lack of funds imposed on him by Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet State. The dogs are wonderfully represented by malleable stuffed animals that have been given tremendous personality by creator Amanda Villalobos.
The actors employ cameras and use miniatures and green screen in order to bring the audience into sections of their small scale fuzzy world. It is these techniques that allow Joe Lukawski, who directed the production for the screen, to more easily expand the audience to include those of us from home. Footage from the four main cameras in the theater are fluidly mixed with the direct feeds already integrated into the performance. This level of rapport with our storytellers is a perfect match for a script built around secrets. And the simple technical effects and stripped down props fit this unique lens.
Based on classified documents that were only released in 2002, the story of political intrigue — AND DOGS — is clear and enlivened with humor, making it appropriate for older children as well as adults. The varied score with intricate lyrics incorporates rock, electronic dance, rap and ballads. “A Brief History of Dogs” loudly celebrates those special supporting characters. “Fill the Void” creates an enveloping soundscape worthy of outer space travel. And “Fuzziest Loneliest” sung from Laika’s point of view presents a particularly poignant moment. A taste of the full cast album is still available at https://mcctheater.org/tix/space-dogs/.
A thoroughly gratifying and impactful entry to the BroadwayHD library, Space Dogs manages to be not only informative but playful, and not just because of the dogs. It can also serve to introduce a world wide audience to the marvelous MCC, one of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies. Captured live in MCC’s Susan and Ronald Frankel Theater and available exclusively to BHD subscribers, this production was made possible through a collaboration with HMS Media. The holiday rate of $99.99 for a full year of membership is available through December 8 ($129 after that date.) Visit https://www.broadwayhd.com for more information.