Monday, December 9, 2019

"Dog Act" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

Dog Act is a little like The Walking Dead, but with entertainers. Because even in an apocalypse (zombie or otherwise), we still need to tell our stories, and be entertained by storytelling. In Dog Act, produced by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Gremlin, a traveling performer and her dog/person try to survive in a post-apocolyptic world that, much like the TWD universe, consists of scavengers and worse, people who will stop at nothing to survive. Those are the ideas explored in this weird but oddly sweet play, well executed by the Fortune's Fool team.

Some time has passed since the apocalypse, so much time that people have developed a new and more efficient language that cuts out the unnecessary. Or at least that's how vaudevillian Zetta speaks, with portrayer Ariel Leaf making the odd shorthand language sound natural and almost poetic. She's accompanied by Dog (an affable Joe Wiener), who used to be a person, but after a traumatic event decided to be a dog (if we could choose to change our species, I would totally be a cat, so I understand the inclination). Zetta and Dog are travelling to China to perform when they meet fellow travelers Vera (Delinda "Oogie" Pushetonequa) and Jo-Jo (Nissa Nordland Morgan), who may not be exactly as they seem. As their names tell us - Zetta is short for Rozetta Stone, Vera's full name is Vera Similitude, and Jo-Jo's moniker is "the Bald-Faced Liar." The group is accosted by scavengers named Coke (Timothy Daly) and Bud (Michael Terrell Brown), names referring to their scavenged post-apocalyptic garb, with surprising results.

Dog (Joe Wiener) and Zetta (Ariel Leaf)
(photo by Kari Elizabeth Godfrey)
Another surprising part of the show is the use of music, with Dog on the ukulele of course. They sing made up songs, or familiar tunes with strangely morphed words from the ones we know, as if the song evolved over generations to better fit this new darker world, like a twisted game of musical telephone. (Music director Nicole Wilder, ukulele coach Nissa Nordland Morgan.)

Under director Ben Layne, the cast fully commits to the absurdity of the situation and characters, but in such a way that they still feel real, and we root for them, especially Zetta and Dog. The cast is dressed in shabby chic outfits fitting to their station; Zetta in a colorful performer's costume, the scavengers in homemade armor. This along with the extreme makeup and hair tell us that this is an absurd world. The set is dominated by a large and sturdy cart with seemingly endless surprises contained within it, the kind you'd expect an acting troupe from days gone by to have. (Costume design by Tracy Swenson, makeup design by Ariel Leaf, set and properties design by Ursula K Bowden and Corinna Knepper Troth.)

You would be forgiven if you've never heard of Fortune's Fool Theatre. Although they produced their first show in 2005, they've had a lot of silent years in that time, and just recently have started doing one or two shows a year. They've done a wide variety of very different plays, including some originals, so it's hard to say just what their niche is. Which is kind of fun. The only common denominator seems to be interesting and unique shows that have something to say, and that are thoughtfully and with enthusiasm brought to life by the cast and creative team. Dog Act is the latest example of that.

Dog Act continues through December 22 at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul.