Full disclosure: One of several organizations to which I donate a portion of the profits from my marginally remunerative enterprises is Double Dog Theatre. That said, I was not otherwise associated with the production(s) which I will forthwith unsparingly deconstruct.
Before I do however, a little background. Double Dog Theatre, for the uninitiated, is Hampton Roads’ newest theatre company. The company’s co-founder and Artistic Director is one Brendan Hoyle, who has previously served as the Little Theatre of Norfolk’s Artistic Director, where he was instrumental in that organization’s beginning to present more daring and relevant shows – a trend which LTN continues to follow to this day to great positive effect. (See my review of “Seminar.”)
“boom” and “OR,” (comma is part of the title) are in repertory as Double Dog’s second official independent production. From the plays presented thus far, it is difficult to tell just yet what exactly is Double Dog Theatre’s artistic ethos, but their operating mechanism is fresh and exciting. Hoyle has established a pattern of attracting local theatrical professionals to work on his shows; and his company employs an innovative profit-sharing business model, under which everyone involved in the production gets a cut of the profits. This makes Double Dog Theatre in effect a semi-professional theatre company, but one into which all experience levels are welcome.
Michelle Jenkins | Photos by David Beloff
The plays “boom” and “OR,” are being run in rep, meaning that both are performed by the same company of actors, with the same production crew, in the same space on alternating nights. This requires that the sets be changed over between each performance (there’s a time-lapse video of the process here). This is something that is frequently done in summer stock or other smaller professional theaters, but has not been seen on local stages in my memory, and I am grateful to Double Dog for their introducing this audacious concept into our community theater vocabulary. Both plays are one-acts, less than ninety minutes in length, both are comedies, and both deal with the themes of human intimacy (“human” being used loosely in one case). They are both therefore natural choices to run in rep.
Gimmicks aside, however, one of these two plays has got to be the stronger, and “boom” emerges distinctly as the pick of the litter. The scenic design by Matthew Gorris is realistic, cramped, cluttered – appropriately claustrophobic. I don’t know whether he or Properties Mistress Heather Shannon dressed the set, but whichever of them it was nailed it. B Butterbaugh’s lights are richly atmospheric, almost panic-inducing at times. Gregory Dragas is spot-on as Jules, the adorkable socially inexperienced Biology major, and Allison Collins in the role of the acerbic Journalism major Jo displays great poise as her character evolves from abrasive to brittle to desperate to hopeful. The two create a compelling couple who manage to survive the end of the world in the most comically dysfunctional manner imaginable. Michelle Jenkins as Barbara, the seemingly-omnipotent narrator who just can’t control her frequent urges to interject into the proceedings, is a delight. The chemistry between the actors, staging, and technical precision on display in “boom” show us what can be achieved by people who are serious about being funny.
Collins & Dragas
“OR,” on the other hand, reminds us that one of these two shows – by necessity of circumstance – was bound to suffer in comparison to the other. Gorris’s set and Butterbaugh’s lights, germane and well-executed though they are, betray that the script for “OR,” gives them far fewer opportunities to show off their talents than did that for “boom.” The staging is problematic as well. The Generic Theater’s Little Hall, although versatile, is a very small space, and when you have to keep two shows’ worth of scenery and props in it, the available real estate for acting is drastically reduced. “boom” is a talking play. The humor is in the dialogue so you can do it in a space about the size of your living room. “OR,” on the other hand, is a farce; lots of scurrying, lots of hiding, lots of people popping in and out of doors. This is much more difficult in such tightly compact environs. Now I do realize that every play has challenges associated with it, and that all the issues I’ve just pointed out are logistical ones, which in no way reflect on the talent of any person associated with the production.
So instead let’s talk about sex. All sex plays, no matter how straight-forward, populist, or superficial they are (and do they tend to be), have a singular artistic value in that they require us to confront the psychological hang-up about sex which pervades our culture and analyze why it exists. However, the director and cast have to be unafraid to go to that place, lest they succeed only in reminding us how deeply engrained our collective sexual insecurity truly is. “boom” features frequent discussions of sex and reproduction, however for reasons on which I can’t elaborate without going into spoiler territory, actual intercourse is unlikely. “OR,” on the other hand – as I said before – is a farce. Specifically a bedroom farce, in which all the major characters in their turn pair up in all manner of combinations. So while both shows have strong sexual themes, “OR,” confronts director Hoyle and his cast with sex in a much more imminent way than does “boom,” and they seem to have shied from it. The play is rife with sexuality, and the cast express very little of it. There is one scene in particular that I thought would have played much better had both characters in it spent the entire time canoodling on the chaise rather than keeping busy getting in and out of chairs and crossing and counter-crossing, which they elected instead to do. It’s a sex farce in a space that’s too small to move very well in, so why not just focus on the sex instead of continually reminding the audience that there isn’t enough room for a hoop skirt between the chaise and the desk? The leeriness toward the subject matter on the director’s part is especially surprising, considering that Mr. Hoyle presumably selected the play himself.
Considering his record to date, and that of the two plays he has offered us one is most definitely worth seeing, I’d like to give Hoyle a pass this one time. In his comfort zone, Hoyle is a very talented director, and not the least of his talents is assembling a crack production team. Matt Backe’s understated and versatile costume designs are a terrific visual compliment to both shows and flesh out the characters perfectly. Charles Owrey’s sound design, as usual, is extremely good, not only for how his effects support the action, but also in his whimsical selection of incidental music.
So there you go. Two plays. One very good, one… could have been worse. Jeez. I just realized that if you’d skipped to this last paragraph, you really wouldn’t have missed anything.
Except the sex part.
Which was good for me at least.
Double your pleasure, double your fun. boom/OR, are a production of Double Dog Theatre, presented by Generic Theater. Performances are through Sunday at Generic Theater in Little Hall (in the basement of Chrysler Hall). Tickets are $15-$17 (only $10 to see the second show). For more information, and a performance schedule, visit Generic Theater’s website.