Dogs of Oklahoma
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
June 23, 2012
I really liked Dogs of Oklahoma, one of the shows playing in the Brick Theater's Democracy Festival. A lot. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it may be one of the most fun shows I've seen in the past three years. However, it isn't necessarily a show for everyone and that owes a lot to its format: Dogs of Oklahoma is a live presentation of a radio show. This means that anyone looking for a show where actors have props, full blocking, or a set to work with (you know, a play) will be out of luck. If you can get over that, there is a lot to enjoy here.
Dogs of Oklahoma is actually the title of a planned series of radio shows, with the live show playing now being the first episode. In addition to being available to watch in person, the episode is available online to listen to. I highly recommend the live show as the energy surrounding the creation of the show is a compelling theatrical element that I think really adds a wonderful layer to the actual audio show being presented.
It's set in post-first-World-War Oklahoma, where a poor community dealing with corruption and lawlessness is butting heads with new technologies and ideals. Gangs run wild and several members of the main cast have familial connections that they're trying to escape. Meanwhile, local authorities live either in fear or in the pockets of the gangs. The status quo is starting to crack, though new technologies like alarm systems are making once routine robberies more difficult. Some of the gangs reject the changes while others attempt to subvert them for profit. There are strong themes of an older, more sinister generation abusing the advances of the younger. In that regard, it's almost like a reverse of the narrative of Peckinpaw's Wild Bunch, holding a more optimistic view of the coming times, and, rather than dismissing honor and nobility as dying virtues, the elder generation tends to look the worse with the young trying to overcome their influences.
There were some extremely minor technical issues at the performance I attended, such as some microphones sounding distractingly tinny, but the show went off mostly without a hitch. The live foley artist, Jean Ann Douglas, is fantastic, taking all sorts of odd items to make various noises, at times aided by other members of the cast who join in to assist with those sound effects. Music, provided live by guitarist Christopher Paul Stelling, goes well with the story. The energy of everyone in the show is great. I could really tell that they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience was, especially during some of the gun play as cast members would take balloons and pop them and then react as if they'd been shot. Aside from a few minor times where actors playing multiple parts didn't quite differentiate their voices enough that it took me a moment to catch up to what was going on, I was quite impressed with the whole cast. Special attention should go to Jed Peterson who plays Van and to Julia Christgau who plays Claire/Elmira Dorn and makes for an excellent narrator to the whole show.
I will concede that I may be the exact audience that the show is meant for, but that doesn't make my enjoyment of it any less true or my recommendation any weaker. Eric John Meyer has written a great show here and director Luke Harlan has done him a great service in bringing it to the stage. While I may be extremely impressed with the quality of the type of show, I need to emphasize that there is a complete package. Writing flows well, characters are interesting, and performances are strong. Now I just need to find the patience to wait for the next episode.