Doggie Style

Get a puppy upper from A Dog's Life at Theatre Three; all's well with Kitchen Dog's world premiere of Sick

About once a season Theatre Three throws the audience a bone with something that looks and feels like a hit. This one qualifies because of the material, the talent and the stripped-down presentation. Instead of the usual cluttered mess of a set, the little theater-in-the-square at the Quadrangle has opened up its acting space for movement. Designer David Walsh has put just a few pieces of furniture on the floor and has decorated the walls with oversized paint-by-number style portraits of dogs (available for sale after the run, with proceeds going to the SPCA). Musical director Terry Dobson and his little trio are tucked away upstage. That gives the cast of canines plenty of room to romp.

A Dog's Life is poodles of fun.

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Not often does a script as brilliant as Zayd Dohrn's Sick get produced in a Dallas theater before it's been seen anywhere else. So catch it now, and you can say you saw it well before it won all the awards it's bound to once it gets to a New York stage. As the mainstage feature of Kitchen Dog's annual New Works Festival, Sick is a millennial Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—with less alcohol and more disinfectant.

A howling good time is had by Joel (Cedric Neal) and his adorable pound puppy Jack (Gregory Lush) in Theatre Three's canine musical A Dog's Life.
Andy Hanson
A howling good time is had by Joel (Cedric Neal) and his adorable pound puppy Jack (Gregory Lush) in Theatre Three's canine musical A Dog's Life.

Details

A Dog's Life continues through June 22 at Theatre Three. Call 214-871-3300. Sick continues through June 28 at Kitchen Dog Theater. Call 214-953-1055.

In a home as sterile as an operating room, the family of a New York City college poetry prof lives in self-enforced isolation. Mom Maxine (Lisa Hassler) has turned germaphobe after 9/11, a day she describes as forcing all of lower Manhattan to inhale the infectious contents of two crumbling skyscrapers. In her spotless white scrubs and surgical mask, Maxine ritually sprays and wipes every surface. Her teenage children, Davey and Sarah (Lee Helms and Martha Harms), are allergic to the world, says Maxine. They've been homeschooled and, if Maxine has her way, they'll remain locked inside as fragile hothouse flowers for life.

Enter the dirty stranger, poetry grad student Jim (Lee Trull), brought home unexpectedly for dinner by Sidney (James Crawford), the sweating, cussing, filthy-minded professor/father. Sid's fed up with wife Maxine's madness. His introduction of Jim to virginal 19-year-old Sarah, who's also a talented poet with dreams of leaving home, leads to a confrontation with Maxine that's every bit as loud, stringently funny and darkly disturbing as Albee's George and Martha mayhem. "Married couples are so tedious," observes Maxine in front of the company. "It's like sharing one small, enfeebled, bisected brain." She describes her husband as "like Woody Allen...except not funny."

Sidney's breakdown, beautifully acted by Crawford, comes after a crisis that sends Davey into convulsions. "I enable this insect existence!" cries Sid.

Directed by Christopher Carlos, Sick is a stunning piece of theater, acted feverishly by the Kitchen Dog cast. Dohrn, currently a fellowship holder at Juilliard, said he was inspired to write the play while spending time in China after the SARS epidemic. He combined that experience with post-9/11 paranoia and still managed to make Sick a comedy that goes well beyond its obvious subject matter to explore the secrets that poison families from deep within.

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