Dog Logic

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Davis Banta and Lisa Hadley star in Dog Logic at the Radius Gallery through May 23. Photo Jana Marcus.

By Philip Pearce

THE VAN ANTWERP Theatre Company, a Santa Cruz group I’ve only just discovered, has opened a production of Thomas Strelich’s Dog Logic, a reflective and wandering attack on consumerism written back in the 1980s. The present show happens in the small Radius Art Gallery located in the new Tannery Arts Center on River Street.

Protagonist Hertel is so devoted to the rundown animal cemetery he owns and operates somewhere in the Central Valley that he’s interred his late father there along with the old man’s beloved dog and a hillside full of other departed domestic pets. That done, Hertel spends the play philosophically resisting efforts of everyone else on stage to persuade him to earn big bucks by selling off his property to greedy local estate developers.

It’s the kind of rambling and thematic material that only really comes alive with sharp acting and incisive direction. Antwerp makes a creditable effort, but it doesn’t really work.

As the hopeful but handicapped Hertel (he’s got two bullet slugs lodged in his head), Davis Banta has some strong and effective moments of pathos and wit, particularly in Act 1, where he is supported by Kyle Wood as a desperately ambitious would-be real estate developer named Dale, and Lori Martinez as Hertel’s policewoman ex-wife Kaye. Martinez is intense and believable, Wood fun to watch but with a tendency to over-act.

It’s in Act 2, with the return of Hertel’s long-lost mother Anita, that the production falters. In many ways the most complex and layered of the four characters, Anita is played by Lisa Hadley with a hesitancy that only disappears in brief outbursts of anger, after which she again seems almost to be cautiously exploring the role for the first time. An important game of dominoes which ought to focus and intensify the troubled mother-son relationship simply drags on until Hertel rather unaccountably hurls one of the tiles across the stage. The play’s ensuing climax, engineered by Anita, limps along, lacking in tension or excitement.

It’s clear that hard effort has gone into the production, but it may be a reminder that community theater works best when a cast faces challenges, yes, but that they are challenges which it is equipped to meet and conquer.