Review: No More Dead Dogs (Griffin Theatre)

  
  

Griffin Theatre focuses on ‘Dead Dog’ fun

  
   

Alex Kyger, Colton Dillion, Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

  
Griffin Theatre presents
  
  
No More Dead Dogs
   
Based on novel by Gordon Korman
Adapted by William Massolia
Directed by Dorothy Milne
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Just what is it about children’s literature? On the one hand, classics in the genre can zap heartstrings and endear us to them forever. On the other hand, they, too, fall back on tired formulas that make us wonder what we ever saw in them. Heaven help the public school teacher trying to turn kids onto literature using “age appropriate” work from the 1950s. Wallace Wallace (Ryan Lempka) is just the kind of kid who won’t accept that kind of fodder without blunt and unforgiving commentary. Griffin Theatre’s latest production at Theatre Wit, No More Dead Dogs, follows Wallace’s keen observation that many books for young people, such as “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”, often have dogs die in them in order to foster some tear-jerking Ellie Reed and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"realization about life for the young reader. (Don’t get us started about Bambi.)

But dead dogs and orphaned deer aside, Griffin’s show, under the easy, swift and agile direction of Dorothy Milne, is a joyous romp for both cast and audience. Co-Artistic Director William Massolia has adapted Gordon Korman’s best-selling comic novel for the stage and his light handling of the ‘tween material usually carries off without a hitch. Wallace, having been lied to so often by his Dad (Jeff Duhigg), simply cannot bring himself to lie about anything, ever—including how much he thinks the book he’s assigned to report, “Old Shep, My Pal”, stinks. Too bad his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman (Jeremy Fisher), can’t accept that his favorite children’s classic may be past its prime. He perpetually puts Wallace in detention until he can write a book report that meets with his approval. What could have been Wallace’s irresistible force running into Fogelman’s immovable object instead morphs into school jock meets the drama club, since Fogelman has adapted “Old Shep, My Pal” for their next production.

By no means is No More Dead Dogs a John Hughes drama. Crafted for younger audiences, the comedy kindly skirts the rancor between high school cliques. Indeed, sub-cultural clashes become virtually negligible once Wallace starts updating Fogelman’s adaptation to something his classmates can relate to. This includes incorporating Vito’s (Joey deBettencourt) garage band, The Dead Mangoes, into the production, much to Fogelman’s chagrin. Lempka strongly shows he knows the importance of being earnest in his humorously straightforward interpretation of Wallace. Fisher, however, almost steals the show, as Fogelman journeys from escalating frustration over his play being usurped, to hip cat on a sax once the band tells him he can join.

          
 Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs" Ellie Reed and Joey Eovaldi in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Ellie Reed and Cameron Harms in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs". (background: The Mangos)

Indeed, much as the play spoofs stale children’s lit, the show looks strangely reminiscent of zany, overtly physical 50s comedy, where every character pretty much stays in type and the show winds up even more crazy from there. Milne’s direction never overplays its hand but always builds the action to its appropriately goofy outcomes. Wallace is solidly flanked by his football buddies and the nerdier drama club, with Joey Eovaldi adding coy and energetic mischief in his role as the younger Dylan. Would that the parts of Rachel (Elllie Reed) and Trudi (Samantha Dubina) could have gone beyond girls-with-crushes-on-the-lead cliches—but at least Reed and Dubin handle their characters sportingly and generously. In fact, one would be hard put to find a more good-natured production, focused solely on dealing out firm and lively fun for the young, than this.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Joey deBettencourt, Erin O'Shea, Morgan Maher and Jeremy Fisher as The Mangos in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Griffin Theatre’s No More Dead Dogs continues at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through June 19th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $25-$30, and can be purchased by phone (773-975-8150) or online.  More info at www.griffintheatre.com.

  
  

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Lifeline welcomes Allison Cain as new Managing Director

Allison Cain Joins Lifeline Theatre as Managing Director

Allison Cain, new managing director at Lifeline Theatre Lifeline Theatre welcomed Allison Cain as their new Managing Director starting March 24, 2009. In this fulltime, on-site position, Cain will be responsible for all the theatre’s non-artistic functions, including operations, finance, marketing and strategic planning, and hsave oversight of all development and fundraising. Together with Artistic Director Dorothy Milne, Cain will continue to work on the ensemble’s 26th anniversary, 2008-2009 season, which will feature the “Mystery3(or “Mystery Cubed”) benefit with Sara Paretsky on April 16 at the Chicago Cultural Center, and concludes with the world premiere adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers“Busman’s Honeymoon,” running May 1–June 21, 2009. Lifeline Theatre is also a member of the community partnership that will present this summer’s Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (August 22–23, GlenwoodAve.org). The non-profit’s 2009–2010 season begins with two world premiere stage adaptations – the MainStage production “Treasure Island” (running September 11–November 1, 2009) , and the KidSeries musical “Dooby Dooby Moo” (running October 17–December 6, 2009).

Lifeline_logo From 2001-2008, Cain was Factory Theater’s Executive Director (where she remains an ensemble member), and was Artistic Director of Studio 108 from 1991–1998. She received her training at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and at Chicago’s Columbia College, and, since 1990, has worked almost exclusively on new work in Los Angeles, Connecticut, and Scotland, in addition to Chicago. Lifeline audiences will recognize Cain from her work as an actor in the MainStage productions of “Johnny Tremain,” “Crossing California,” “The Mark of Zorro,” and “Mariette in Ecstasy,” as well as in numerous productions over the past 17 years with Factory and other Chicagoland theaters. Cain had been concurrently working in the corporate world for the past 25 years, and for 13 of them as a Human Resources professional.  She said, “I am thrilled to make the full-time transition to the not-for-profit theater world, and remain committed to the development and production of new works.”

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