There’s no other way to say it: Julie Marie Myatt’s “The Rescued,” now in its world premiere at the Road on Magnolia, is one of the most genuinely odd plays you’ll see this season. Yet just when you’re about to relegate it to the realm of the purely twee, it delivers an emotional punch that may floor you.
No spoiler here: Mere minutes into the play you’ll realize that all its characters are animals — cats or dogs who have been rescued from horrible situations by a benevolent, but never seen, human couple (and from the looks of Sarah B. Brown’s purposely threadbare set, this charitable pair has clearly lavished most of their expendable income on their adopted menagerie).
All are survivors, but some — like Harold and Buster (J.D. Hall and Leandro Cano, respectively), the elder statesmen (or statesdogs?) of the group, have come to terms with their painful pasts. Not so newcomer Jason (Patrick Joseph Rieger), an angry dog so scarred by years of isolation that he is unable to connect except through assault.
Then there’s pregnant, pretty Lola (Kacie Rogers), who — when she does venture out of a closet — is regularly attacked by Jason or her fellow feline, Candice (Meeghan Holaway), a high-maintenance diva abandoned by her wealthy owners. Most moving of all is “weiner dog” Darrell (Rahul Rai), who keeps the memory of past torture at bay with a bombastic cheerfulness that covers inner agony.
In a smoothly paced staging, director Marya Mazor keeps the action on a razor’s edge beween the hilarious and the heartbreaking. Also maintaining a delicate balance are the deft performers, who manage to keep their characters richly “human” while at the same time playing up their amusingly animal characteristics.
However, although mostly well-groomed, “The Rescued” suffers from a touch or two of mange. The action is frequently and bizarrely interrupted by musical “solos” in which the performers, some of whom can’t carry a tune in a bucket, warble classic rock tunes along with the taped originals. And why did Myatt think it necessary to tack on not one but two interspecies romances — dramatically dubious relationships that seem plain weird?
How much better it would have been to leave the emphasis entirely on the emotional travails of these wholly sympathetic and completely comprehensible characters, whose struggles attest to the worst of humankind — and that species’ transcendent capacity for kindness.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 11.
Info: (818) 761-8838, www.roadtheatre.org
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.