Tuesday, September 19, 2023

"Rich Dogs" by WeAreMarried at Jungle Theater

We're just two weeks into the new #TCTheater season, and we've had classics and new plays, and now something entirely different. WeAreMarried's original play Rich Dogs is experimental, absurdist theater in which dogs rule the world and humans are their servants. With the way people love their dogs, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch. I'm a cat person (quelle surprise, and yes I have been binging Emily in Paris) so it's a little different, but there are times when I feel like the cats are in charge and I'm the butler - feeding them, cleaning up after them, disposing of mouse carcasses. The talented creative team at WeAreMarried has taken this idea and used it to explore themes of societal norms and structures, classism, capitalism, maybe even art and theater itself. At least I think they are, I'm not entirely sure what this piece is supposed to be about, but that's OK too. Rich Dogs is a captivating, fascinating, perplexing, and wholly unique 90 minutes of theater.

The entire play takes place in the lobby of the Jungle Theater, which is one of the smaller lobbies in town. About 20 mismatched chairs are placed at the far end of the lobby near the bathrooms, and the performers are right there in front of and amongst us (but don't worry, there's no audience participation). Jay Eisenberg and Chelsie Newhard (who also co-wrote the piece, along with director Shelby Richardson) play butlers of two rich dogs attending a theater performance for dogs. Their job is to wait in the lobby and rush into the theater whenever their dog calls them. While waiting, they talk about their jobs and their lives, they take a nap or two, they sing a song, and maybe they even fall in love.

Jay Eisenberg and Chelsie Newhard in the lobby of
Jungle Theater (photo by Lauren B. Photography)
The piece also includes a couple of recorded videos played on an archaic TV set noisily wheeled in and out by Shelby (with videography by Victoria Carpenter). Videos include one of the famous dogs, an underground movement where humans are in charge, and what is essentially dog porn, with dirty-talking puddles and couches and trash bags. The performers are dressed in some sort of very detailed monochromatic uniform, including tall hats with nets, and many fanny packs for carrying essentials (costume design by Bee Begley). The 360-degree sound design has music, voices, and sounds coming from the theater, or overhead in the lobby, or the boom box in the lobby on which the butlers listen to 20th Century pop classics (possibly/probably sung by them). They also sing a song live near the end, with sound designer Dan Dukich popping out of the theater to accompany them on guitar, and it's a surprisingly lovely and poignant moment.

Everything about this show is unique and unexpected. The performers give completely committed and present performances, as if we're not even there, and the thoughtful and detailed design elements combine for an immersive one-of-a-kind experience. It's a weird one for sure, but there's definitely a place for weird in #TCTheater. In fact, there's a need for it. I'd tell you to see it for yourself, but with the very limited seating, the run is virtually sold out. Visit the Jungle website to enter the waitlist.