I fell in love with the dog. The dog’s name happens to be Dog, and as portrayed by Karen Lange, I just wanted to scoop her up and give her all the treats. Lange gives a performance that is sly and witty and full of the complete love that dogs give us poor, beknighted humans.
This is a small gem of a show that begs to be savored.
It seems a simple story—fractured family, old dog failing, growing up, Christmas, facing change. But it’s ever so much more than that. It’s sorrow and joy and finding ways to carry on, even when your heart is breaking. And there’s a lot of heartbreak, but you’re left with a modicum of hope.
Juniper is in her final year of college and runs away from her boyfriend, Timothy, to go home and see her father Atlas. Juniper (the profound Schuyler Atkins) is facing adulthood and fumbling badly. Timothy (a kind Andy De) is moving to London for a master’s program. Her father, Atlas (Erik Harrison completely embodies a taciturn man who says more with body language than he can with words), has to sell the family home. He simply can’t afford it anymore. While confronting her father regarding her mother Iris’s extended absence (a luminous, conflicted Aubri O’Connor), they receive news that Dog is ill and there is an end-of-life decision to be made.
Rounding out the cast is the Virgin Mary (a very funny and wise Danielle Hutchinson). This is a VM that is completely human; she knows all things pass and she can be blunt about it. She also smokes, swears, gives opinions and advice when asked, and takes Dog’s favorite stuffed toy when Dog loses playing poker with her. Okay, she eventually gives the stuffy back, but still… it’s Dog’s favorite stuffed toy!
The action takes place in a series of vignettes that VM introduces. They are lovely snippets that reveal truths about these characters who love each other so much and yet hurt each other so badly. In some scenes, when the characters are writing in their journals or reminiscing, there is an overlap in their choice of words; they may be separate, but at the bottom, they are so very connected.
Dog introduces each act by singing a song as Timothy plays the guitar; the songs are lovely and achingly forlorn. At the beginning of the first act, Dog sings about finding a hard road home and rarely have words rung so prophetic or true. On the other hand, VM’s glee at having Dog perform and Dog’s cutting her eyes at VM is a smart bit of physical comedy.
One of the most profound moments comes when Iris tells Atlas that she’s a “nomad kind of woman,” giving him fair warning that she can’t stay. She, like the other characters, has a deep need that has to be met or she’ll wither. Atlas is holding up the world for Juniper, who tries to understand, but really can’t. At least not yet. But Dog is there to comfort and the moment when Atlas is fishing, and Dog lays her head over his shoulder is just stunning.
And the script can be really funny—belly laugh funny. The humor provides some respite and makes you realize that you know, basically, this is survivable and somehow we’ll all come out the other side.
Mara Sherman directs in Caos on F’s intimate space (intimate as 31 seats) and does a stellar job of finding the balance between pathos and comedy. The very versatile set is designed by Julia Colpitts (who also did the sound) and Mara Sherman.
This is a small gem of a show that begs to be savored. Even though most of the audience could have used some tissues at the end, it’s still light enough to remind you that overall, life is messy and good and bad and that sometimes it’s the non-human companions that ease our journeys more than we can ever repay.
Advisory: Strong language.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“Dead Dog’s Bone,” by Nu Sass Productions, runs from March 22 – April 14, 2019, at Caos on F, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.