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Theater Tue Feb 08 2011

The Neo Futurists' Laika Dog in Space Blasts Audiences off to Outer Weird

Neo-Futurist Laika 4.JPG

Laika, Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough. Photos by Evan Hanover.


Laika Dog in Space is a lot of things. It is more than a play; it is an event. A class, even. A field trip. It is a variety show of sorts, with an art gallery/museum for a lobby and a live band.

Upon arrival to the Neo Futurarium, where Laika Dog in Space is playing, audience members are invited to explore the "state park" (a.k.a. the lobby), where there are a few dioramas on shelves against one wall and framed photos of all the famous dogs from pop culture on another wall, complete with clever descriptions underneath. Snoop Dog is even included.

There's also a little booth with a television inside, playing "The Prisoner." Apparently "The Prisoner" was a British spy show from 1967 to 1968. Rob Neill, one of the actors/writers of Laika Dog very enthusiastically explained to me why "The Prisoner" is amazing and handed me a piece of paper explaining it even further. The word "isolation" was used several times on that piece of paper as well as in the play itself.

Isolation seems to be the overarching topic on hand in Laika Dog in Space-- the concept that ties it all together-- although the show is initially disguised as a silly show about a dog. Not that's it's not a silly show about a dog, at least a little. It is both a silly show about a dog and a slightly more serious show that is supposed to make us think about isolation and politics and borscht and what outer space was like in 1957. For a dog.

This dog, Laika, is played by a puppet, which is played by Eevin Hartsough's hand. Laika was an actual dog who actually was sent to space by Russia. She was the first animal to orbit the earth. Laika (the puppet) is childish but sassy, and extraordinarily introspective, but mostly just brave. On one hand, Laika Dog in Space is an abstract interpretation of what it must have been like to be Laika, way back in 1957.

But there is so much more going on. For example, there is a moment about halfway through the show where Hartsough breaks the fourth wall and has a conversation with the class (the audience) about The Little Prince, a French novella from 1943, which was yet another inspiration for Laika Dog. There's also the aforementioned live band, complete with an accordion, playing slightly nonsensical and highly repetitive jingles-- some sung by the band and others sung by the actors. There are a whole bunch of television sets scattered around the unusually wide and strikingly well-designed set. The televisions usually have outer space on them, but sometimes show movie clips and gorgeous little animations to accompany "story time", a repeating phenomenon in the show.

Neo-Futurist Laika 2.JPG

There's a woman (Caitlin Stainken) sitting way up in the corner, behind the audience, giving directions to the actors as if they were in space and she was the robot controlling their spaceship. Or maybe she's God, with a really calm robot voice. According to the program, Stainken is only playing the "calm voice" for the first two weeks of the show, which is a little distressing to me because she was my favorite character in the play. But Bilal Dardai, Greg Allen and Joe Dempsey will probably do a good job, too, throughout the run.

The apparent lack of plot in Laika Dog may be unnerving for theatergoers looking for a more traditional show, and the audience participation bits may cause passive theatergoers to squirm a little, but the thing that's really going to drive some of you up the wall is the overabundance of musical interludes, which are at times mildly entertaining, but largely abrasive to those of us who wish musical theater had never been invented.

Laika Dog is not a bad show overall, though. It is strikingly creative to the point of being downright weird. In a good way. Acute attention has been paid to detail and finishing touches in this well-rehearsed, fast-paced, playful show. Rapid-fire word play is punctuated by spacey, dreamy, visually-lush introspective scenes in a way that evokes the mindset of an over-caffeinated, really smart eight year old. Laika Dog in Space is kind of like a slumber party on acid. And much like a real acid trip, whether it's a good trip or not will likely depend on what mental baggage, reservations and expectations the audience members bring with them into the black box.

My advice? Go a little tipsy and a little hungry, too, because there's borscht at the end.

Laika Dog in Space was created (both written and acted out) by NY Neo-Futurists Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough, & Jill Beckman. It was directed by Phil Ridarelli, with music by Carl Riehl.

Laika Dog in Space opened last Saturday, Feb. 5, and regular performances continue through March 12, 2011: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. There will be two special pay-what-you-can Monday night performances: February 21 and 28 at 8:00pm. Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. All performances take place at The Neo-Futurarium: 5153 N. Ashland. For tickets or information, visit neofuturists.org or call 773-275-5255.


 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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