Theater Review: DEX & ABBY (Pride Films and Plays)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 25, 2020

in Theater-Chicago


“Love me, love my dog. [Then I’ll love you…}” That’s the operating assumption between Dex & Abby, a cross-species comedy/love play. At 130 minutes of industrial-strength sentimentality, this Chicago premiere from Pride Films and Plays will test your tolerance for anthropomorphized antics. It’s the feel-good story of comfort humans and stand-up dogs.

Allan Baker’s 2019 drama imagines a “blended family” of a pair of trendy gay lovers, their lesbian pal, and the essential dogs that (I mean who) define, amplify and confirm all bonds and ties. Sean (Josh Pablo Szabo) and Corey (Jesse Montoya) are dramatically familiar partners, subject to all the traits and trials of contemporary gay character contrasts — commitment phobia, worries about assimilation into straight society, jealousy over exes, anxiety over not being loved back, black-tie fundraisers.

Adopted, then abandoned because of his orientation, Sean fears that he’s a human “rescue” and could easily return to his default drive of loneliness, whether married or not. Keeping his cool, Corey keeps it real. Katy (Jasmine Manuel) helps them shop and prepares for her own beckoning nuptials with the unseen Sarah.

But the most important creatures in Daniel Washelesky’s staging have eight legs and equally distinctive personalities. A goofy clown and protective best friend for most of their lives, Dex (Daniel Vaughn Manasia) may be named after the Showtime serial killer but this mixed-breed has been faithful to Corey all his life. The born-again hunter also hates squirrels. Likewise, Abby (Chesa Greene) is, well, doggedly devoted to Sean, even when forced to wear an Elizabethan collar. (“Don’t be a bitch!” is his rather literal and unhelpful admonition — and got the play’s biggest laugh.)

Initially territorial as they’re forced to co-habit, the lovable mutts fight over chew toys, freak out or not over lightning, scamper about demanding “walkies”, and, above all, provide the unconditional mongrelized love that their owners wish they could give each other. Slowly the furry friends learn to share their mutual home, even curling up on the couch and touching in their sleep.

But, wait, there’s more! Dex & Abby goes way beyond contrasting pets and masters. Each dog really understands its keeper, though not necessarily the other one’s. They even offer their significant biped relationship advice straight out of, well, Dear Abby.

A little of this inter-species wishful thinking goes a long and sometimes cloying way. But in the second act, where Corey, Sean and Abby must measure their full feelings for Dex, there were more than a few damp eyes in the opening night audience. That payoff notwithstanding, Dex & Abby takes too long to reach this heartbreak.

In any case this cat-lover wasn’t entirely convinced that the title dogs really are for their guardians siblings from another mother.

Eric Luchen’s spiffy living room set is the perfect neutral territory for sharing hopes and bones. Dog lovers everywhere will feel at home with Allan Baker’s palpable passion for pooches. Despite my life-long allergy to adult actors depicting children and humans playing hounds (we won’t even talk about Cats), Washelesky’s quintet are consistently believable. That’s creditable enough for Montoya, Manuel and Szabo but no small feat for Greene and Manasia. (They may even carry fleas for all we know.) Happily, their barks are beautiful.

photos by Heather Mall

Dex & Abby
Pride Films and Plays
Buena Theatre @ Pride Arts Center, 4147 N Broadway
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2:30
ends on March 29, 2020
for tickets, call 773.857.0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays

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