Dog Logic by Tom Strelich playing at Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) in Minneapolis is an odd mix of comedy and drama, with almost a hint of a thriller. The play is held together by the lead performance of Josh Jabas as Hertel Daggett. Hertel is a man content to keep plugging away at his failing pet cemetery while those around him try to get him to sell the land so a shopping mall can be developed. The strength of the play is Hertel’s unique character which is paradoxically intelligent and yet in some ways also a vulnerable adult. Jabas’ brings that character to life and carrying the show through what is an exhaustive run time of nearly two and a half hours including the intermission. Jabas’ performance includes many humorous monologues delivered to the audience as if we were the deceased pets buried in the cemetery. It’s through these one sided conversations as well as his interactions with the other characters that we come to know him. He has a way of baiting whoever he is talking too that is often amusing. For me, Hertel was reason enough to enjoy the show.
If Hertel, and Jabas’ performance of him are the strength of the play, it’s weakness is its length. While the character of Hertel is somewhat original, it’s plot about family members trying to get someone to sell their land so they can all get rich is one of the plots Moses smuggled out of Egypt. Miriam Monasch’s direction seems to lack the pacing necessary to add the needed tension to the real estate scheming. There were some nice moments in that plotline. But when you use something as creaky as that storyline is, you really need to move through it faster or you run the risk of your audience remembering every other film, play, radio and TV episode they have ever seen that utilizes it. I mentioned at the top that there was almost a hint of a thriller, that’s because there are a couple of moments when you are not sure what may have happened to one character and you realize Hertel has been doing something but you are not sure what. There are also some reversals that happen that for some reason don’t play as well as they should. A combination of quickening the pace and some judicious cuts to the text could have brought this play in at a more effective 1 hour 50 minutes. Aside from the bloated length of the play, the theatre was easily 10 degrees warmer than anyone could reasonably desire. A long run time and near tropical conditions will tend to zap the energy out of any play.
Creating a set for a theater in the round production can be a challenge but Latoya Dennis did a great job with this one. The circular fountain in the center gave the actors a natural flow to their movements around it giving all audience members an equal share of the performances. Prop Designer Robert J. smith did an excellent job of filling Hertel’s junk pile home with details that made the location feel real. Ian Fyfield as Fight Captain staged the few moments of physical altercations in such a way that in those moments that play came alive in a way it hadn’t for much of the run. The Sound design by Anita Kelling was at times effective and at other times perplexing. It was almost as if the audio clips we heard between scenes were to indicate the passage of some time or the era, but they didn’t match up with either of those ideas.
Dog Logic isn’t as satisfying as it could have been but I still find it interesting for the main character of Hertel, and Josh Jabas’ central performance which endeared me to him. He finds the humor in the world and has the ability to see through so much of the BS that those around him are trying to pass off as facts. To learn more about Dog Logic and to purchase tickets go to http://www.theatreintheround.org/ Just remember to leave the sweater at home.