Some audience members will really enjoy Stray Dogs by Matthew Myers at The Essential Theatre Festival, which features all Georgia playwrights this year. The winner of the 2013 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, the play gives an interesting take on established noir genre and includes special effects, fights and gore. If a film, Stray Dogs would have action movie written all over it. But, it is never a good sign when eight audience members sitting in a general area decide to leave at intermission.
Stray Dogs centers around a minor gangster named Jackson, played by Lake Roberts. After asking for an escort (Amanda Lindsey), he goes to meet long lost friends at a bar. Only the escort, Violet, turns out to be under age, so she says. It is when Violet steals his orders from mob boss Toni Harris (Ashleigh Hoppe) that the plot thickens and hidden secrets and identities become known.
While parts of the play are genuinely entertaining, the whole plot is border-line preposterous. It isn’t presented in a manner that says “yeah, this is supposed to be over-the-top,” but unfortunately dramatic moments of the show come off that way.
The title says a lot about the main characters; each one has a hidden past and is a loner. Little of their pasts are explored, though, and much of why they are the way they are is left open, which is more of a problem with Violet. Of the two, Jackson is the more developed and interesting one. Roberts couldn’t be more perfect in the role. He brings the character to life in a real and engaging way. Lindsey does what she can with Violet, but the character doesn’t seem to have much identity.
After wonderful, engaging productions of Evelyn in Purgatory and Bat-Hamlet last year, the selections at the festival this year feel lackluster. The set, especially for this one, appears amateur. For the simple staging, scene changes take far too long, pulling the audience out of the momentum of the action. Plus, the staging is clunky with much of the action taking place on the extreme ends of the stage with very little happening in the center.
Appealing in places, the Stray Dogs could use more tweaking to flesh out the characters and define the conflict a bit more. Ultimately, the good parts become overshadowed by the flaws in the narrative.
Held at Actor’s Express, The Essential Theatre Festival runs through August 11, 2013 with Stray Dogs, Mysterious Connections and Swimming with Jellyfish playing in repertory. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. Stray Dogs’ runtime is a little over two hours with an intermission.
– A. Wesley