<b>SHORT AND SWEET: </b>EM Lewis's mini-plays come to life in DramaDogs' latest production, <em>Dance Me to the End of Love</em>.

Every performing artist knows that overthinking will drop you into a quagmire awkwardness and stiffness. DramaDogs directors Ken Gilbert and E. Bonnie Lewis champion a method of rehearsal that gets actors out of their heads by starting with their bodies. And judging from this showcase of eight short works by EM Lewis, all indications are that Gilbert and Lewis know how to guide their actors. A ten-minute play carries its own unique challenges: setting, dramatic tension, and motives have to be established at once, and communicated to the audience almost by osmosis. Like miniatures in other arts — Japanese netsuke, for example — the mini play converts inherent limitation into zen-like opportunity. And the most successful of these performances on Friday transmitted a jolting ‘a-ha.’

EM Lewis, who holds a seat on Playfest Santa Barbara’s honorary board, has earned coveted awards for her plays Song of Extinction (2009 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award) and Heads (2008 Primus Prize). Dance Me to the End of Love is DramaDogs’s own assemblage of EM Lewis shorts, smartly selected for variety of color and mood. In $2500 OBO, an elderly woman (Kathy Marden) refuses to vacate the car her son is trying to sell out from under her. The Manuscript pits an unflappable new writer (Jennifer Marco) against an irritable veteran (E. Bonnie Lewis), whose editing knife she both needs and resists. In the uproarious Ask Roberto, a middle-aged woman calls in to a gay television chef (brilliantly played by Mack Urbanowicz) for advice about her lackluster marriage. Apple Season presents an encounter between a woman, who inherits her childhood home and orchard, and a neighborhood farmer (George Coe) who wishes to buy it — despite a freakish asking price. Finally, the titular Leonard Cohen tie-in comes from a slow-burning tragedy that I will insist you experience for yourself.


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