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Review: Why is this man ribbon dancing to Whitney Houston? The mysteries of Echo Theater’s ‘Found Dog’

Steven Strobel in Echo Theater Company's "Found Dog Ribbon Dance."
Steven Strobel in Echo Theater Company’s “Found Dog Ribbon Dance.”
(Darrett Sanders)

In the first scene of Dominic Finocchiaro’s “The Found Dog Ribbon Dance,” a man brandishing red ribbon banners dances — wordlessly, ecstatically, inexplicably — to a Whitney Houston song.

That opening salvo by the Echo Theater Company at the Atwater Village Theatre sets the tone for a persistently offbeat play that struggles for whimsy but frequently succumbs to the twee.

Norma (Amanda Saunders) is a professional cuddler (yes, that’s a real thing) who plies her trade in an unnamed city in the Pacific Northwest. The quintessence of New Age mellowness, Norma has taken in a lost dog. (Just in case you’re confused, Daniel Hagan, who plays the pooch, sports a T-shirt emblazoned with “Dog.”) In between hosting her cuddle clients, Norma tries to reunite the animal with its owners.

That setup is a sufficient excuse for Finocchiaro to parade a gallery of eccentrics through Norma’s apartment, nicely evoked in Kirk Wilson’s funky-hip scenic design. It’s also a prime opportunity for director Alana Dietze to show off her performers, who include Steven Strobel, Eric Gutierrez, Gabriel Notarangelo, Gregory Itzin, Clarissa Thibeaux, Julie Dretzin and West Liang — a worthy cast whose craft somewhat compensates for the episodic nature of the play.

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Amanda Saunders and Steven Strobel appear in "Found Dog Ribbon Dance."
(Darrett Sanders)

The characters are all yearning urbanites seeking connection, whether that be of a cuddly or canine variety. However, it’s Norma’s growing romance with aging barista Norm (Strobel) that rescues the play from its strained peculiarities and places it in an emotionally realistic context. And yet Norma’s later actions receive such a cursory explanation that the play’s emotional veracity is undermined at a critical juncture.

Despite many genuinely comical moments, this “Dance” remains an awkward exercise that stumbles more often than it soars.

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“The Found Dog Ribbon Dance”

Where: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays; ends March 12

Tickets: $20-$34

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Information: (310) 307-3753, www.EchoTheaterCompany.com

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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UPDATES:

5:40 p.m. Feb. 28: This article was updated to reflect the production’s new end date.


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