The webs we weave when first we practice to deceive don’t get any more tangled than the latticework of lies one couple tells another in Micah Schraft’s A Dog’s House, the latest IAMA Theatre Company World Premiere, and every bit the hilariously edgy, high-impact experience IAMA has been offering L.A. audiences for the past eight years.
30something Michael (Graham Sibley) has some shocking news in store for his longtime live-in lover Eden (Christine Woods) upon her return to their suburban desert home. Jock, the couple’s pet Rottweiler, has apparently attacked, dismembered, and chowed down on their new neighbors’ pet poodle Phoenix, and how to do you break news like that to the folks next door?
Though Michael’s tale of carelessness and woe is already a lollapalooza, that story pales next to the ones he and Eden concoct to convince young marrieds-without-children Bill (Dean Chekvala) and Nicole (Katie Lowes, who shares the role with Amy Rosoff) that little Phoenix has merely run off to parts unknown.
Before long, Michael and Eden are helping Bill and Nicole post Lost Dog notices around town all the while attempting to deal with their own beloved if troubled pooch, who might just have crossed the line from playful pet to bloodthirsty beast, a possibility rendered all the more probable when Jock sinks his teeth into Bill’s leg not long after.
A series of scenes in one couple’s house or the other’s fill us in on the foursome’s back stories, on the strengths and weaknesses of their two relationships, and on the ways a pet canine can bond a couple, or reveal cracks in their marital (or prenuptial) bonds.
The men connect over manly things and the women over “How I Met My Man” reminiscences, conversations that reveal truths that will leave one relationship stronger and the other on far less firm a foundation.
In other words, what starts out an HBO-ready sitcom morphs gradually into something considerably deeper and more life-altering, not at all surprising for IAMA, which started its life on the 99-seat-theater scene when a bunch of NYU Tisch School Of The Arts grads bent on retaining their theatrical roots in Film-&-TV-land created the company back in 2007 on the way to now-thriving Hollywood careers. (Lowes has starred as Quinn for the past four seasons on the ABC megasmash Scandal.)
A Dog’s House marks IAMA’s return to The Elephant Theatre following their Ovation Award win (Best Production Of A Play) for last year’s The Recommendation, and like the company’s previous World Premieres (including six of Leslye Headland’s Seven Deadly Vices plays so far), Schraft’s conversation-provoking dramedy is yet another winner, particularly as directed with considerable flair by New York stage star Trip Cullman, his work most recently seen on the West Coast in the Geffen’s superb Choir Boy.
TV star Lowes’ role may be the smallest of the four, but her return to 99-seat theater for the first time since 2010’s The Accidental Blonde proves not only a real treat (she shows off delicious comedic chops in this one) but is sure to keep seats filled for her scheduled performances. (See website for details.)
Chekvala, who shared the stage with Lowes in The Accidental Blonde, does exciting, dynamic work as Bill, the scene-stealingest role of the four and one Chekvala nails with unleashed power and punch.
Finally, doing quite possibly his best work to date (which is saying something indeed), Sibley dazzles in a role that has him garnering laughs in early scenes, revealing truths in later moments, and ultimately digging ocean-deep into the bonds that can unite man to man’s best friend at no matter which age.
A Dog’s House looks fabulous on the Elephant stage, scenic designer Rachel Myers having surrounded the two couples’ living rooms, not with your usual walls and windows, but on all sides with a gorgeously painted desert mural that keeps us reminded that just outside Michael and Eden and Bill and Nicole’s doors, coyotes might just be running wild, truths echoed in Jeff Gardner’s multifaceted sound design. Josh Epstein’s expert lighting design cues us in to time of day or night in addition to upping dramatic ante. E.B. Brooks’ costumes fit each character’s personal choices to a T.
The Elephant’s only moderately raked seating means that scenes played at floor level can get blocked by audience member heads, and some key props remain unseen until exiting the theater, but this is my only quibble with yet another splendid IAMA production.
A Dog’s House is produced by Cymbre Walk. Jamie Wollrab is assistant director. Lara Myrene is stage manager. John Lavelle and Nina Caussa are technical directors.
Understudies Sheila Carrasco, Wes McGee, Melissa Jane Osborne, and Sean Simbro cover the roles of Eden, Michael, Nicole, and Bill.
IAMA Theatre Company and its members have come a long long way since their arrival in L.A. almost a decade ago, both in their individual careers and in their company’s status on the 99-seat theater scene, one currently endangered by Actors’ Equity’s reckless goal to eliminate the plan that has borne fruit in dozens upon dozens of companies like IAMA.
A Dog’s House is IAMA Theater Company at its very best, and that is saying something indeed.
Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.
March 29, 2015
Photos: Patrick J. Adams