Dog Act Review: Helen Shaw, Time Out New York

(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Liz Douglas, Chris Wight, Becky Byers)

Helen Shaw’s review for Time Out New York is out! We’d been hoping to lure one of the 3 regular TONY reviewers to our shows for some time now, as they have a great track record of championing artists off the beaten path (Cote for Young Jean Lee, Feldman for The Amoralists, and Shaw herself most recently for Tina Satter). We were thrilled when Shaw’s name appeared on our press schedule.

On the other hand, her brilliant take-down post on the legacy of Samuel Beckett did not make her seem the ideal candidate to review a play that in many ways feels like a direct heir to Waiting For Godot. Knowing that she ended her call to puncture the cult of Beckett by meeting him “cheerfully on the road with this bit of Buddhist wisdom: Some things are far too serious to be taken seriously”; I looked forward to seeing how she would respond to a play that does exactly that.

You have to take some delight in a review that makes three canine puns before even beginning: on an Obama campaign slogan, an R.E.M. song, and a famous Vietnam film. Once begun, her review is a mingled yarn of the some of praise and criticism the show has already received: concern over the play’s repetitions and length, questions about the production’s broader comic choices, and praise for the imaginative language and some of the performances. I wish she would have elaborated on statements like, “as expositor, she stays almost dangerously aloof” (I’m honestly not sure what that means, but it sounds like a question about how clearly Liz’s authorial voice manifests itself – thoughts?)

The review also inspires several interesting questions: how polished should the vaudevillians be? Let’s say you were able to assemble a cast that could not only handle all of the other challenges in the text, but also had serious chops in the vaudeville tradition: how would you balance that polish against the demands of setting and character? Like the worn costumes and battered cart, I suspect the play works better if those things come first.

Secondly, it’s important to consider that for these characters, entertainment is literally a matter of survival. A certain amount of desperation is present in every performance; despair is a failed patter away. The routines should feel a little effortful; success can not be a given or the miracle at the end loses its bite. For me, the real charm lies not in the “love of all things theatrical” but in the temporary, conditional, fragile triumph over despair their act of theatre makes possible.

I look forward to (hopefully) continuing the conversation with Shaw and the other TONY reviewers at future Flux productions. Read the whole review here, and then get your tix for our final performance, and then leave your own thoughts on the play here.

1 Comment on "Dog Act Review: Helen Shaw, Time Out New York"

  1. RVCBard · February 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm · Reply

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