LA Theater Review: D IS FOR DOG (Rogue Artists Ensemble at Studio/Stage)

by Tony Frankel on July 14, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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To be honest, I was not a fan of Rogue Artist Ensemble’s Hyperbole at [inside] The Ford last year. Their current work, D is for Dog, clearly elucidates what was lacking in that production (and, indeed, much of American Theatre): compelling storytelling. When the venerable company’s use of modern technology (digital media and theatrical illusions) and ancient storytelling techniques (such as music, masks and puppetry) are used to enhance a fabulous and cautionary fable such as this, the results are mind-boggling and truly blur the parameters of traditional theatre.

D is for Dog - Rogue Artists Ensemble at Studio/StageMeet the Rogers: a 1950s nuclear family that begins their sit-com-style day with such a plastic plasticity that we believe Katie Polebaum’s play will be a comical examination of post-war stereotypes. Soon enough, pill-popping, absurdist home-schooling and Mr. Rogers’ anxiety regarding his employer – the Conservation Corporation – unravel an eerie, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi tale which dares us to confront the carefree mind-set towards the catastrophic certainties of our own constantly-consuming culture. Catharsis, humor, shock, spot-on acting, terrific dialogue, and a pitch-perfect production team prove Rogue Artists as a leader in ensemble work which is pointing the way to the next generation of theatre.

D is for Dog - Rogue Artists Ensemble at Studio/StageCo-written and conceived by director Sean T Cawelti, D is for Dog also puts a wrinkle in the theory that only actors, writers and directors should run an ensemble (the Rogues are run by a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers). Some ensembles only use their own actors, which can result in less-than-perfect casting; here, only one of the six performers is a member. Fortunately, that actress is Nina Silver, who portrays Mrs. Rogers with a fierce conviction that belies a vulnerable weariness. Guy Birtwhistle deftly nails both the Father-Knows-Best persona and the terrified yet protective daddy. Taylor Coffman mines some comic gems as daughter Jane, and Michael Scott Allen stuns with his veracity as the “Aw, Gee” son, Dick. In other roles, Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer prove that great acting is necessary to great puppetry (I’ll say no more about that).

D is for Dog - Rogue Artists Ensemble at Studio/StageYes, the dozens of artists involved with this show deserve mention, but it is the original music by John Nobori and Ben Phelps that gave me hope in an area of theatre that looks grim: composition. The music is jaunty and tuneful – it evokes and imitates the themes of 1950s TV while remaining truly unique.

With no intention of critiquing, my attendance at the Pay-What-You-Can performance (Sundays at 4:00) prompted me to alert our readers. You say that you’re looking for theatre which deserves attention?  Their ad reads “Red [pills] for when you feel like you just might be better off dead.”  In fact, R is for Rogue Artists, E is for Exciting, D is for Dog.

tonyfrankel @

D is for Dog
scheduled to end on August 7
for tickets, visit or call 213.596.9468

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