Dog Act, the opening entry in MOXIE Theatre's inaugural full season, contains mature language. A whole, big bunch of mature language. This black comedy is loopy with word images of a tribe-riddled world choking on its inhabitants' inhumanity. Some of the dialogue hints at one murky character's capacity for excruciating violence, while two others holler "fuck" almost as often as they blink.
Close your eyes and you'll swear you're on a golf course.
That's the wonder of this Southern California premiere, staged at Diversionary Theatre as the latest stop along MOXIE's road to regional legitimacy. The multi-styled dialogue is not in the least gratuitous; it's by far the most vital element in a play full of vital elements. The speeches chart the story and determine the happy ending, even more so than the characters they illustrate-language morphs at will in this post-apocalyptic setting, and Liz Duffy Adams' script exploits all that audio like the extremely theatrical piece it is. Those who have even the slightest ear for dialogue won't ever want it to end.
The play never tells us how the world blew itself up, but who cares-to do so would undermine the story of heroine Zetta Stone (Liv Kellgren). She's a heroine because she's a vaudevillian, a song-and-dance storehouse of America's pre-Armageddon parables and thus immune from harm. Even the gnarly scavengers Bud (Brandon Walker) and Coke (Matthew Scott), so named because of the empty beverage cans they wear, know not to mess. Anything happens to Zetta, and a corner of their past goes with her.
Zetta and her companion Dog (Jason Connors) are taking their act to China, only this China is more a state of mind than a place. Directors Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and Jen Kraus adapt really well to that notion, letting the language nuances become characters in and of themselves. Listen to Zetta's rat-a-tat-tat pidginisms at a devastated landscape ("What-all; grievous old joo-joo went on here"). Compare her passages with those of the erudite soothsayer Vera Similitude (Sylvia M'Lafi Thompson) and her disdain for the current "militaristic matriarchal free-market slave economy," the stateless woman-child JoJo (Jo Anne Glover) and the simple folk tales she spits into the wilderness, and Dog's tendency to say "Bark!" instead of actually barking (a tip-off that he's only patterned his life after those of the dogs he'd met before his fellow humans trashed his home planet).
These "new" languages are metaphors for a recycled world where hope, as always, springs eternal. It is a world of marvelous fun. More than that, it endorses a core theatrical characteristic-the sound of the words-as it seeks our suspension of belief. Zetta is off to fight and win another day. And MOXIE is off to a very good start.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Oct. 8. Dog Act runs through Oct. 23 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $10-$15. 760-634-3965.
Drug use derailed black Teddy Jackson's boxing career, and now that's he's clean, he wants another shot at the prize. White Jerry Dobbins has other plans for Teddy, his captive-and in Donald T. Evans' Dancing with Demons, the bloodthirsty little psycho is about to commit the outcome to film.
The Floyd Gaffney-directed piece from Common Ground Theatre feeds off Evans' good deviations in dialogue. While Teddy (Mister Jones) speaks in anecdotes about his mom, Jesus and a friend's violent death, Jerry (Anthony Rosa) confines his meat-and-potatoes banter to his admiration of Teddy and, eventually, his homicidal hatred of blacks. The contrast makes a nice feature, although the passages unnaturally contrive the racial angle in some scenes.
Jerry falls short expositionally, and some of Evans' ideas are filled in with colorless allusions to beer and drugs, but Dancing with Demons makes its point through two pretty good performances and Ted Crittenden's dusky set.Dancing with Demons runs through Oct. 16 at 6th@Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest. $20. 619-688-9210.