Lori E. Parquet as Rozetta Stone

“I will speak and end all suspense” ~ Zetta Stone. 

Liz Duffy Adams’s play Dog Act is one of those, what do you call them? Where a thing is its definition? Like the word “pentasyllabic.” Anyway, it’s that, a Dog Act: the last shred of dignity the modern world can leave to the later-than-modern world, the no-longer-modern world, the future world. Whatever happens when pastiche becomes fact, that is Dog Act. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and no dream is more satisfying than “the present.”

The play is a riff on two genres: the futuristic dystopia and the Restoration comedy of manners, kind of like Aphra Behn’s The Rover crossed with Waiting for Godot. It is a fruitful crossbreed: both of the genres are deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche, and Ms. Adams deftly manipulates both the generic plot elements of the two forms and the verbal modulation between poetic and absurd. It is a play full of puns, double-entendres, French, doggerel verse, songs, meaningful malapropisms, and the F word. If you dig Shakespeare, you’ll probably get a kick out of Dog Act.

The plot is a buddy story: two wandering Vaudevillians — one human and one putative canine — are trying to get from North America to China, land of fabulous wealth and ease. On the way they run into homicidal scavengers, treacherous frenemies, and the ruins of a city that symbolize guilt and forgiveness. All the appropriate cultural themes are dealt with in due order: the insufficiency of knowledge juxtaposed to the over-productive power of language; original sin and redemption; and the necessity of the (theatrical) imagination to keep us insane humans on the rails of our crazytrain. But the story itself isn’t the reason to see this play. The joy of this entertainment is in the play itself — so good that she put a play within the play like a stick of doublemint gum: to double your pleasure.

Dog Act requires an ambitious company of players to take on Adams’s frenetic and intense word-play. Fortunately the cast, the director Kelly O’Donnell, and the production crew were up to the task. Ms. O’Donnell, who directed Jacob’s House reviewed here, pitches the plot action and character interaction just right. The play never drags, no one actor dominates the space, and even Ms. Adams’s most convoluted clenches are rendered accessible. Everyone does a truly professional job.

I have to single out one actor for special praise, however: Lori E. Parquet, who plays the vaudevillian Zetta Stone, is a wonderful, natural talent, and a gift to Off-Off Broadway theater. Her charisma and magnetism add innumerable dimensions of depth and nuance to the text. Perhaps because she is African-American, I was reminded of the link between Vaudeville and minstrelsy; nineteenth century America’s mix of frontier science ficton and the original American sin of slavery; and the redemptive overcoming promised by our collective journey Westward to the land of the setting sun — and the rising sun. From West to East, from East to West.

It is a show well worth your time. See it now before these Vaudevillians pull up their stakes and move on.

Dog Act: now through February 20th at the Flamboyan Theater, 107 Suffolk St., Manhattan.

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