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Theater Review: 'D Is for Dog' at Studio/Stage

June 23, 2011 |  3:35 pm

D is for Dog - The Zebra-NCIn Rogue Artist Ensemble’s “D Is for Dog,” which ran briefly at South Coast Repertory (where I saw it) and will open in L.A. on July 1, life doesn’t just resemble a 1950s TV commercial; It is a 1950s TV commercial.

Mrs. Rogers (Nina Silver) twirls into her white, turquoise and lemon kitchen, admires the “marvelous” (digitally projected) morning, hands Mr. Rogers (Guy Birtwhistle) a cup of pretend coffee, and quotes a Maxwell House slogan to an unseen camera. The Rogerses live in this camera’s eye, and Mrs. Rogers, especially, refuses to break character. She faces the audience even when doing so makes chores awkward, and if something unscripted happens, her eyes dart sideways, but her smile doesn't flag.

The production team, led by director/co-author/puppet designer/video designer Sean T. Cawelti and playwright/scenic designer Katie Polebaum (most names are listed more than once), has a field day sending up the 1950s. The Rogerses' blond 7-year-old children, Dick and Jane, could be illustrations from the books that inspired them — except that they’re played by adults (Michael Scott Allen and Taylor Coffman, both wonderful). Before heading off to “the corporation,” Mr. Rogers takes a “clear pill, to put pep in your step.” If little Jane “goes off,” as Dick describes her lapses, she gets a yellow pill. And Mrs. Rogers reaches more and more for the all-powerful “blues.”

These and other engagingly sinister hints (the children receive gas masks for their birthday; animals apparently no longer exist) let us know that something ugly lurks behind this anxiously maintained facade. The suspenseful plot evokes “The Twilight Zone” and Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” and hinges on three unforgettable life-sized puppets.

Like the best science fiction, “D Is for Dog” gains its power from the vulnerability of its characters, human or not. I was so engaged that it didn’t occur to me until afterward that not only are the styles of the 1950s fun to satirize, but the denial, faith in technology, and pharmaceutical escapism we associate with the era also chillingly reflect our own.

--Margaret Gray 

“D Is for Dog.” Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. 4 p.m. Sundays. July 1 through Aug. 7. $20. Contact: www.rogueartists.org or (213) 596-9468. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Photo: Michael Scott Allen, Guy Birtwhistle, and Taylor Coffman in "D Is for Dog." Credit: Kris Bicknell.

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