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A group of friends have gathered to drink beers and smoke buds under the powerlines in suburban Massachusetts in remembrance of their friend Justin, who died under mysterious circumstances at the end of high school. Now, thirteen years later, they have made their anniversary pilgrimage to a spot by a cliff in the shadow of electrical transmission towers, to party in remembrance of him.
But tonight will be different.
Joey (Nat Cassidy), a successful Hollywood writer with a famous singer girlfriend Gretyl Barnes (Lori E. Parquet) and the only member to make it out, has returned as with a proposition. Joey wants to know how Justin really died, and he’s willing to give a brand new Porsche to the one who can tell him. But Stu (Matt Archambault) doesn’t want Joey to learn their innermost stories about Justin. Stu says Joey is a sellout who used his friends’ lives to get rich in Hollywood, and Stu is sick of having his life appropriated without getting the spoils.
As the audience finds their seats, a young woman reclines on a couch, listening to headphones.
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.
Rain lashes the window. This silent, melancholy scene is interrupted by a rap on the door. The young woman rises from the couch and limps over to it. An older woman in a not-so-fashionable pastel colored poncho enters and introduces herself as Elizabeth, Tracy’s mother. Three years after her daughter’s rape and murder in the jungles of Colombia, Elizabeth has travelled from Chicago to L. A. to find out exactly what happened from the last person to hear her daughter’s voice.
Lock your windows, Lovers! Dr. X is prowling the town, a twisted Opposite Day Santa Claus, creeping through windows after midnight, looking for inamoratos whose heads are filled with dreams of sugar plum fairies and bright tomorrows, and injecting them with deadly venom. Who can stop this murderous crime wave? Nina, Sally and Jazmin — the CRIMEFIGHTERS! They’ll find out why Doctor X is such a murderous creep! But dang my dingies! The Gruesome Doctor slips through their fingers until Lisa, an unmasked amateur, follows him through a window and attempts to stop him herself. Though he escapes, Lisa gains the admiration of Nina, Sally and Jazmin who ask her to join the team, Alexandre Dumas style.
“Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros / molirique arcem et manibus subsolvere saxa…” Aeneid I, 423-24
The toiling Tyrians on each other call
To ply their labor: some extend the wall;
Some build the citadel; the brawny throng
Or dig, or push unwieldly stones along. (Dryden)
In pre-modern times cities of any respectable size had walls. If you have ever been to York, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Istanbul, Rome, or Jerusalem, you have seen their skeletal remains, like the spines of long-dead dinosaurs bleaching in millennial sunlight. These days there isn’t much point in putting a wall around your city, what with transcontinental missiles, stealth bombers, drones and such. That doesn’t mean walls have gone out of style though. Bin Laden thought walls would protect him. Ditto for KimDotcom. Rich people from Johannesburg, South Africa to Briar Ridge, Indiana build neighborhoods with walls and walled estates within those neighborhoods. One is tempted to say with Frost, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out.” Is the disparity between rich and poor so great that it has to be protected and reinforced by a wall?
This certainly seems to be the case in Erin Browne’s new play Menders. The play is set sometime in the future when the United States is no more, but a few communities have survived to build protective walls. These walls serve the same purpose as pre-modern walls: they keep out the barbarians. Inside the walls two young people, Aimes and Corey, just graduated from the academy, are field training with Drew, a veteran who is about to retire. The Menders are the professional fence tending force that monitors and maintains the stone border between us and them. In the hierarchy of Browne’s futuristic American police state, they rank second only to Investigators and well above civilians. Corey is an idealistic, patriotic young woman who sees the Menders as a social ladder she will take pride in climbing. Aimes is her cousin. He is nervous and excitable. For him the Menders are a uniform he must put on because he fears what people might think if he doesn’t.
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.”