Thinking Cap Theatre’s
“Hot Dog” bites back
~Jesse Leaf, Around Town Newspaper
Nicole Stodard’s Thinking Cap Theatre has quickly carved a niche for her particular brand of incisive and exciting theater in South Florida. Her seeming mystical ability to seek out and produce little-known plays of richly provocative content and meaning is quite unique. Now her talents have gone international. The current play lighting the stage at Nova Southeastern University’s Black Box Theatre (doing justice to the former home of the lamented Promethean Theatre) is “Hot Dog,” a tart and quirky black (well, dark brown) comedy from London of the type so beloved by the Brits – iconoclastic, freewheeling, eccentric. Only this was penned by a young American ex-patriot with what looks like an important future ahead of her.
A typical review here would only debase the brilliant multi-dimensional work and interplay of plot, character, psychological and metaphysical conflict (I wish there were a word like “proflict”). It is, on the most basic level, the sum of the lives of the characters and it can be seen as an exposition of our lives — every last one of us. What we are at the final summing, our metaphysical displacement in the world, is a compilation of the tiny acts we played, deeds we chose, and the thoughts we acted upon.
The actual setting in Nova’s intimate space is a magically clever multi-dimensional, tableau by Chas Collins that places a perfectly normal, if not banal, living room in front of a pop artist’s depiction of clouds framing a large projection screen. Steps separating the audience, backed by an ivy-hung picket fence, fool the eye into seeing a lot more depth than is actually there. It is a layered psychological montage often backed by a huge projection of a bridge (keep reading). It quite dominates the mood.
Playwright Sarah Kosar doesn’t fool around. We are immediately privy to conversation about … poo. A perfectly sensible tete-a-tete, only one of the “tetes” is a human being in the guise of a dog. Kosar gets you by the lapels. Is it supposed to be a dog acting doglike or a human pretending to be a dog? The genius of the play is that the answer is left to the audience. The Dog, which is the character’s only name, is the mother of two women, Carol and Maryanne, who has grown old and dependent on them for her daily needs. This, of course, is the natural course of things, but on quick reflection, also holds true of caring for an animal. Let’s say a dog.
Kosar periodically plants raw evidence of the resentments and coping mechanisms we all feel regarding responsibilities to our loved ones. Dog, once in the position of power, is reduced to a nearly helpless and neglected pet and retaliates with “punishments,” like relieving herself on her daughters (done quite civilized on stage, don’t worry) or paying for her time and affection. Dog poo on the floor is considered just payment for countless dirty diapers in the past.
A short word about husband Michael, who responds to this avalanche of Gestalt motives, experiences, and conclusions with choosing another universe, one in a difference location and centered around cats, with their fierce independence and reduced responsibility. The aforementioned bridge is his ticket out of his world, but also forms the toxic connection between mother and daughters. Works for him.
Superlatives for the cast each amazing member seems made for their role. Sally Bondi was awesome to the point of transmogrification. There’s an instant flash of dislocation when, at the play’s end, she takes off the dog mask she has been wearing all evening. Ann Marie Olson’s subtle and ultimately powerful facial expressions as Carol are acting at its best. Niki Fridh kept her feet firmly planted on the tightrope of Maryanne’s character, gamely working through her insecurities and abuses without succumbing to being a victim. And Mark Duncan, too, braved the slings and arrows of a character on the edge of inconsequence with a knowing and deftly handled Michael.