Imagine if the comedy from a charismatic SNL sketch was intertwined with poignant writing from the Spanish Golden Age of theatre. The result: The Dog in the Manger. This sparky rendition of Lope De Vega’s 17th century play blends meta jokes, farce, and societal reflections to create a mixture of stimulative fun.
The Dog in the Manger transports us to the estate of the Countess Diana, a fiery woman who holds her servants in an iron grip and grasps for a constant state of control. When she discovers that Marcela, her lady-in-waiting, and Teodoro, her secretary, are lovers, she develops a jealousy that quickly transforms into spiteful love. If she can’t have the lower-class Teodoro, nobody can.
The chemistry and comedic talents of Manger’s close-knit cast is what gives the show a unique vivacity. This isn’t a surprise considering that We Happy Few productions are known for their tight ensembles. Each actor plays off of the other with ease and delight while bringing lovably idiosyncratic tendencies to their roles. Teamwork makes Manger dazzle.
A majority of the 7-person-cast plays more than one character. I’ll share the highlights of their portrayals: Raven Bonniwell’s hugely expressive eyes convey Diana’s hunger and malignity from a mile away. Kiernan McGowan balances the production as Teodoro; playing the straight man while adding in bits of self-righteousness to give the character flavor. Natalie Cutcher uses her bell-like voice to play an ingenuous, but feisty Marcela. Tori Boutin and Debora Crabbe chauvinistically bumble about as Diana’s aristocratic suitors, essentially being the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the show. Charlie Retzlaff’s version of Count Ludovico is endearingly naive. And Louis E. Davis executes the role of Tristan, Teodoro’s sidekick, with power and tomfoolery.
A rapid succession of well-timed physical and verbal comedy serves as Manger’s foundation, featuring jokes that tear down the fourth wall brick by brick. At one point, Teodoro “hides” by taking a seat among audience members and reading the program. But it’s the show’s overall zaniness that allows the quiet and thought-provoking moments to stand out, thanks to the work of directors Hannah Todd and Bridget Grace Sheaff. When characters take time to remark on their issues with relationships, class, and privilege, you want to lean in and listen.
The Dog in the Manger
closes December 2, 2017
Details and tickets
The simple set design lends itself to the play’s intentional absurdity without going overboard. Actors move about the black box stage, strategically transforming simple set pieces through quick transitions. One hilarious bit occurs as Diana fumes from a window that menacingly rolls closer to her servants. It’s like something out of “Jaws.” My one qualm is that several of the set piece transitions are noisy and distracting.
The Dog in the Manger produces plenty of laughs alongside instances that naturally invoke viewers to introspection. If you enjoy slapstick with your social commentary, you’ll have a good time watching this production.
The Dog in the Manger by Lope de Vega . Directed by Hannah Todd and Bridget Grace Sheaff. Featuring Raven Bonniwell, Tori Boutin, Debora Crabbe, Natalie Cutcher, Louis E. Davis, Kiernan McGowan, and Charlie Retzlaff. Scenic design: Jimmy Stubbs. Costume design: Moyenda Kulemeka. Lighting design: Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Props design: Sarah Kamins. Sound design: Robert Pike. Fight director: Andrew Keller. Fight captain: Tori Boutin. Stage manager: Sarah Kamins. Marketing director: Kerry McGee. Graphic designer: Arnel Sancianco. Dramaturg: Keith Hock. Producer: Robert Pike. Production manager: Kiernan McGowan. Producing artistic director: Raven Bonniwell. Founding Artistic Director: Hannah Todd. Produced by We Happy Few. Reviewed by Emily Priborkin.