Every resident theater in America will tell you that it is "interested in looking at new scripts." One reason that South Coast Repertory will get a Tony award next month is that it regularly produces them.
To be sure, it generally does them on the Second Stage. But that doesn't imply a sketchy, under-rehearsed production. Thomas Strelich's "Dog Logic," for instance, boasts a classic American back-yard set by Michael Devine.
The yard is more sand than grass. It overlooks a pet cemetery that hasn't had a funeral in 10 years. That's OK with the fellow who runs it (Darrell Larson). He'd rather poke around the garage and commune with nature.
It's not that he can talk to animals. He simply understands how they think. That does not necessarily make a man a weirdo. It's a point that he wants to get over to his long-lost mother (Angela Paton), who wants him to sell the place to the shopping-mall people. . . .
Will he or won't he? That's the question of the play, but Strelich isn't in a hurry to settle it. The play is basically a long visit with Larson's character, a mildly goofy ex-hippie with all kinds of theories about how the human race got disconnected from itself and how it might repair the connection--not by building more shopping malls.
Larson immediately establishes the character's good intent, and you can't help being charmed by his goofiness. The Second Stage audience also loved Paton's wry description of how she first met Larson's dad at the Bakersfield Christmas parade. "I was from Boron; I was easily impressed."
At such moments it's pleasant to sit there and bask in the conversation, like turtles on a rock. At its best, the play rebukes the big-city convention that drama means something happening every two minutes.
Eventually, though, we sense that the actors (including Joel Polis as a land-grabber and Julie Fulton as Larson's ex-lady) are bringing out all their personal vivacity so as to keep us from fidgeting. Drama isn't about car wrecks, but it isn't about language either. It's about people changing under pressure, and that's not sufficiently sensed here, especially in the Larson character.
We like him, but we don't really know where he's coming from. He's friendly enough to talk to us, so why is he living like a hermit? He's intelligent, so why doesn't he know that his land is about to be sold for taxes?
To what extent is he a happy dropout, and to what extent a traumatized orphan? These things may be clearer in the script than they are in Martin Benson's sunny production. More shadows might have given the play more movement.
Plays at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, with Saturday-Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Closes June 5. Tickets $19- $24. 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; (714) 957-4033.
Thomas Strelich's play, at South Coast Repertory. Director Martin Benson. Setting Michael Devine. Costumes Dwight Richard Odle. Lighting Brian Gale. Production manager Ted Carlsson. Dramaturge Jerry Patch. Stage manager Andy Tighe. With Darrell Larson, Joel Polis, Julie Fulton and Angela Paton.