Stage

What's Left After War, a Pandemic and Nationalism? Dog Act at Main Street Theater

Jose Moreno as Dog and Tamara Siler as Rozetta Stone in Dog Act.
Jose Moreno as Dog and Tamara Siler as Rozetta Stone in Dog Act. Photo by Ricornel Productions
When all else is gone, humans will still have stories to tell, and the need to hear them. That premise is  central to the plot of Dog Act by Liz Duffy Adams, in which a woman and her "Dog" travel the post-apocalyptic new wilderness of the northeastern United States. With hopes of somehow getting to China.

And yes, it's a comedy despite the dire surroundings of a world that has succumbed to multiple destructive impulses and events: war, pandemic, nationalism. If it sounds like today, the good news/bad news is: it premiered in 2004.

Main Street Theater mounted a production of Dog Act in 2012. This version, directed by Andrew Ruthven, includes original cast member Tamara Siler as Zetta Stone, the traveling player, as well as Chaney Moore, José Moreno, Trey Morgan Lewis, Shondra Marie and Nathan Wilson.

Dog is a human who has decided to demote himself as a species. Asked how she happened to pick a dog for that role, Adams said multiple elements sparked her idea.

"I had just seen a Wooster Group production. There was a young man who was playing a dog and there was something very sweet about that. Around the same time I read Sylvia by [A.R.] Gurney and it infuriated me. It's about a female dog named Sylvia and it's meant to be played by a young woman. And I thought it was a dreadful play and sexist and infuriating and I threw it across the room.  I sort of felt like 'I'll show you how to write a person playing a dog.'

"Those are maybe not very profound sparks but the fact that dogs sort of are famous for virtues that we like to think are also human virtues but aren't always. Lovingness and courage and loyalty, open-heartedness and generosity of spirit. Dogs are always there for whatever it is. So I'm attracted to that.

"But the idea that a person would opt out of the burden of being human was very interesting to me. That a desire to evade failed responsibilities that are so burdensome. Having the responsibility of everything that being human entails," she said.

Dog does have a particular reason for opting out of humanity and, according to Adams, "to embrace the simplicity and purity of being a working dog. It simplifies what we need to do in life. One of the things about being human is how complicated it is and we all sort of struggle with that."

As the play — and it includes a play within a play — goes on, Zetta and Dog encounter a couple of scavengers — Bud and Coke — who are from a group of people who are pretty rough and dangerous, Adams said. They also meet a pair of other vaudevillians who've lost everything and they join forces.

Adams explains that the idea of China — "they're not clear about geography — is more of a pleasant mythical place rather than a realistic destination. Cities around them have been destroyed but they really don't know if that's the case everywhere.

A central question in the play is how do people behave in such daunting circumstances. And that is not a simple question of good and bad, righteous and malign for Adams.

"How do we live well. How do we live as human beings in a way that is morally, profoundly good in an ethical sense?"  Zetta is an example of somebody who is inherently good. But nobody is evil in the play. Everybody is just making their own accommodations."

Adams is going to be in Houston to see the production. She has been busy since she wrote it with other plays; she'll be in rehearsals here for her latest play: Born With Teeth which will premiere in May at the Alley Theatre.

"Story telling is one of those things that make us human.  It’s the original art form. As soon as we had language we were telling stories. And the stories were about what happened. We create our sense of ourselves through story telling and I think that's really an eternal part of human nature."

Performances are scheduled for March 26 through April 16 (previews March 20, 24, 25) at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater's Rice Village location, 2540 Times Boulevard. Proof of negative COVID test or vaccination card required. Masks optional. For more information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com  $36-$55.

The production will also be available for streaming April 7-17. $20-$40.
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