Dog Logic at Theatre in the Round Players

Photo from Theatre in the Round

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.

Black Comedy Shines Bright at Theatre in the Round Players.

cartoon logo for "Black Comedy" showing a frightened man in the dark with a lit candle

Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer is the sort of play Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) does best. It’s fun, fast paced and the action takes place in one setting. After what seemed to me to be a bit of a rocky start this season TRP should have a hit on their hands with this delightful farce. The play is set in the apartment of Brindsley Miller a struggling sculptor who, along with his Fiance Carol is preparing to Host a Millionaire who is interested in his work and Carol’s father who’s blessing he must win in order to marry Carol. In an attempt to impress the two important men they have borrowed an away neighbors antique furniture without his consent. Just as they are about finished setting the stage a fuse blows in the building and plunges the entire evening into darkness. Almost the entire rest of the play takes place in an apartment where all the lights have gone out.

Are you having trouble picturing it? I almost hate to spoil the clever conceit of the play, but it’s stated in the program and becomes apparent from the very beginning. As the play opens the stage is in darkness, we hear the actors discuss the evening and set up all of the details which will drive the the plot forward. Brindsley played with manic exasperation by Josh Carson, frets over the furniture they have borrowed as the neighbor who is away until the next day is very protective of it and would never consent to it being used. He also expresses his insecurity of meeting Carol’s father, an Army Colonel, whom he’s sure will not approve of him. Carol played by Kaitlin Klemencic questions Brindsley about the photo of a girl she has found in his nightstand drawer. He claims she is an ex-girlfriend from two years ago. If you are familiar with farce, you can anticipate that these details will come into play as the evening progresses. Suddenly the lights flicker and then come fully on. We can see the actors clearly for the first time, but the characters have been plunged into complete darkness. It’s a brilliant technique that lends itself to endless comic possabilities. We are able to see that no one is looking in the right place, we see the near misses of characters and can see the falls and spills they take. The Lighting design by A. Camille Holthaus plays a key role. When a lighter is lit or a match struck the lights fade accordingly, the more light they have the less we the audience have. The timing is perfect for the light queues which were put to the test when one actor keeps lighting matches while another blows them out.

You can imagine the possibilities and I wont spoil the fun or the surprises that the play holds. I will say that as with all great farce just as the characters think they have one situation handled a new hurdle is thrown in front of them. The cast is uniformly great and Carson is a standout, he’s great with the physical humor, taking several fairly large pratfalls. But is also perfect at reacting to each new catastrophe and showing us his ability to deal with each one. I did feel he started slightly too high on the manic scale at the beginning, he could have benefitted from having further to go energywise from beginning to end, but he’s so successful anyway that it’s hard to find fault with it. It’s hard to comment on many of the actors without possibly revealing incidents in the play that are more fun to experience than read about. So I’m just going to list the entire cast and assure you they are all perfect in their roles. Josh Carson, Kaitlin Klemencic, Alison Anderson, Don Maloney, Matt Saxe, Kendra Alaura, H. William Kirsch, and Don Larsson. The direction by Brian P. Joyce is spot on, timing is everything with farce. If the chaos isn’t perfectly timed, it results in real chaos rather than comedy.

Black Comedy plays through February 2nd at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis for more information on the play and to purchase tickets visit http://www.theatreintheround.org/new-homepage/on-stage/black/ . I highly recommend this show.