Bad Dog and Other Plays
At Center Stage Theater, Saturday, September 15. Shows through September 22.
Janice (Laurel Lyle), the protagonist of Michael Smith’s Bad Dog, is a mother, a presidential candidate, and a former terrorist. Like the ancient Greek Prometheus, Janice sins against the gods by bringing the gift of fire to the people. In her case, that gift takes the form of homemade bombs and the spirit of violent 1970s radicalism.
At the end of Dogs Bark All Night (2000), presented earlier the same evening, Janice turns herself in to the police after having lived for years under an assumed identity and starting a family with her sympathetic husband, Bill (David Brainard). Leaving Bill and her son, Tommy (Alfred St. John Smith), behind, Janice takes responsibility for crimes she committed years before-yet her final scene in the play is not the one in which she is locked away. Instead, it is a presidential candidate’s formal speech, one full of attacks on American militarism and candid and hopeful ideas about how to change America and make it right.
In the sequel, Bad Dog, Janice makes her dream campaign a reality-or at least as real as anything else in the play’s interiority-tinged, mostly prop-less light-scape. Released from prison after a stiff sentence of eight years, Janice picks up the pieces with her family, while her campaign becomes a serious run for the White House. By responding to Dogs Bark All Night with Bad Dog, Smith plays Percy Shelley to his own Aeschylus, answering the dilemma posed by “Janice Bound” in a glorious, positive, poetic, and philosophical “Janice Unbound.”
Of the three interstitial plays, Point Blank and Fast Forward stand out. The “loop play” Point Blank employs a cyclical structure in which an eight-person ensemble repeats a sequence of lines and actions beginning and ending anywhere, for as many times as they like. The threshold for entering this piece is steep, but once you’re in, the payoffs are worth it. Tom Petra, Melissa Rose Ziemer, Suzanne Bodine, Alfred St. John Smith, Susan Keller, and Melissa Paper all connected with the inner freedom of repetition as the second half of the piece enacted the evening’s theme of release through forgiveness. In Fast Forward, Alfred St. John Smith had a lot to memorize as he sprinted through the poignant story of several generations and lifetimes played out against a ruefully observed and historically accurate Santa Barbara backdrop. Michael Smith’s fathering of this thoroughly fascinating evening extended to the lighting design, which, given the minimal stage set and tight blocking, became almost like another member of the cast.