D is For Dog
Hudson Mainstage | 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd | Through Aug. 4 | Tickets $20-25 | rogueartists.org
Equal parts Twilight Zone and Father Knows Best, Rogue Artists Ensemble’s multimedia, sci-fi black comedy D is For Dog gets a summer remount after last year’s successful run at Studio/Stage. I was glad to finally catch up with this piece, which received an Ovation nomination last year for the captivating puppetry that the Rogues have incorporated into writer Katie Polebaum’s unsettling tale of a seemingly perfect suburban family in a reimagined dystopian 1950s America. With production values that belie its 99-seat roots, director Sean T. Cawelti’s hi-tech staging wrings all that it can from a story that doles out the surprises in a frustratingly drawn-out fashion.
Before the show begins, we are treated to Polebaum’s perfect American kitchen set, realized in a pleasing palette of white and aqua, but featuring a disturbingly unreal, computer-generated sunrise out the window. The Rodgers family enters, led by a perfectly coiffed, pirouetting mother (Nina Silver), followed by her perky twin children, Dick (Michael Scott Allen) and Jane (Taylor Coffman). By the time Mr. Rodgers (Guy Birtwhistle) enters, fedora in hand, we know we are in the land of the iconic 1950s television family. While Dad goes off to work at the all-knowing Conservation Corporation, Mom and the kids stay in the house, with home schooling, a steady supply of pills (that “put the pep in your step!”) and regularly administered electronic sun rays giving them no reason to leave the house. Ever. But all is not what it seems.
To give away much more of the Truman Show-like plot would be unfair. But a second-act visit from creepy outsiders allows the Rogues to utilize a deep bench of artistry, with life-size Bunraku-style puppets and dazzling video and sound effects taking over. Unfortunately, this explosion of expertise comes a little too late, as we are not given enough information in Act One to feel a stake in this faux family’s plight. If Polebaum let us in on their true situation earlier, we’d be rooting for a resolution and feeling more deeply at the eventual ending.
As it is, we are left to marvel at the breathtaking design elements. While the artists responsible for the puppets and video are too numerous to list, Ben Phelps’ pitch-perfect music punctuates the proceedings with humor and pathos. Kerry Hennessy’s costumes are terrific (and oh-so-easily shed when necessary) and—from fake pancakes to gas masks—Leslie Gray’s props are outstanding. The cast, too, deserves credit for committing fully to a highly stylized world, with special kudos to Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer for breathing such full and fearful life into the exciting puppets. With some tweaking, D is For Dog might feel as great as it looks. —Christopher Cappiello
For the Record: Boogie Nights
Rockwell | 1714 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. | Through Aug. 4 | Tickets $30-35 | showatbarre.com
For the Record is back! This time with an all-new show based on the soundtracks of the films by Paul Thomas Anderson. As many of you know, the For the Record series began two years ago and has become the hottest ticket in Los Angeles. Originally performed in the cramped Barre side of Vermont restaurant in Los Feliz, the new show For the Record: Boogie Nights premieres in their brand-new space called “Rockwell: Table & Stage.” Gone is the separate bar/lounge and adjacent upscale restaurant. Now both spaces have been combined into a spot made exclusively for Show at Barre. (The Rockwell restaurant still exists in a separate area.) For the first time, patrons can stretch their legs a bit more, even while the actors appear around you, singing, dancing, roller skating and hamming it up as your favorite movie characters.
The new show features music from both Magnolia and Boogie Nights with a few scenes from Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood thrown in for fun. Featuring its usual rotating cast, the show opens with what becomes a musical version of Magnolia, complete with Aimee Mann songs sung by characters from the film. It’s a lovely reminder of how good that soundtrack actually was. Each member of the cast is committed and game, with a special appearance the night I saw the show by hunky Superman look-a-like and Young & the Restless star Peter Porte, who took on the Tom Cruise role.
After the lovely but melancholy set for Magnolia, followed by the “power in the blood” scene from There Will Be Blood, the cast donned sequins, short shorts, open shirts and roller skates for their musical take on Boogie Nights. With a standout and spot-on performance by Derek Ferguson as Dirk Diggler, this was the most infectious and amusing half of the evening. The entire cast was daringly risqué, and their vocal performances were perfect. And for the ladies and gays, there were plenty of hunky, shirtless guys to titillate and/or make you want to go to the gym. We even get a flash of some booty (male and female), so if the impressive vocals and energy of the cast weren’t enough, you have some lovely eye candy to keep you invested.
With terrific musical arrangements by co-creator Christopher Lloyd Bratten of songs such as “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “Boogie Shoes,” “God Only Knows” and even poor Dirk’s attempt at making it on the music charts with the overblown ‘80s track “The Touch,” there is a lot of fun to be had with For the Record’s latest creation. And yes—there’s even a prosthetic penis. —Kevin P. Taft