Dog of the South, Judd Parkin’s adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1979 novel, opened at the Center Theater on February 14th. This comedic play centers around military-history-buff-turned-college-student Raymond Midge (Christopher Morson), whose wife, Norma (Shannon Loys), has just run off with his nemesis, Guy Dupree (Joshua C. Williamson) – and his blue Ford Torino. Desperate to get his car – and his girl – back, Raymond embarks on the roadtrip of a lifetime, running from the south to Mexico all the way to British Honduras in the hopes of catching up to beautiful, fleeting Norma.
Dog of the South is a little strange getting into at first. Raymond narrates throughout the series of vignette-like scenes that slowly grow longer and longer as the play progresses. Similarly, other characters begin to jump into Raymond’s scattered narrative, adding bits and pieces of their own to the story. An ensemble cast shuffles through roles and costumes almost as fast as Raymond’s cross-country trek changes scenes, hurling rapid-fire dialogue across every part of the stage with an urgency that increases with every moment. This already fast-paced production moves faster and faster as Raymond gets closer to his final destination, but the quick pace and snappy dialogue are a challenge every actor handles with humor and aplomb.
Morson’s Raymond may joke about his rodent-like features, but this bookish ex-copy editor is no rat. Though unaware of his own ridiculousness, Raymond is endearing in his own silly way, garnering both sympathy and laughs from the audience. However, the real highlights of the play are Suzy Hunt’s Mema, the shotgun-toting minister preaching to children in British Honduras, and Gin Hammond’s Melba, Mema’s over-eating, psychic companion.
Hunt dominates the Unity Tabernacle with her “my way or the highway” attitude and no-nonsense bellow, while Hammond carves out her own place on the stage as nervous, quirky Melba. Both women are a joy to watch and full of the kind of life that makes this comedy top-notch. The first time we see the two of them on stage together, they command the attention of the audience with their screwball back-and-forth and dynamic and over-the-top characters.
Jim Gall joins the bunch as the absurd Dr. Reo Symes, the ex-physician who jumps on board with Raymond after his school-bus-turned-camper (the infamous “Dog of the South”) breaks down in Mexico. With his love of alcohol, pills, and questionable business practices, the scheming doctor brings a new level of ridiculous to Raymond’s road trip of a lifetime.
Though this nearly two-hour show lacks an intermission, the fast pacing and constant laughs make it feel a lot shorter than it actually is. The play’s slow start is a little concerning at first, but once Raymond begins his cross-country trek, the pace picks up – and for the better. This is definitely best for college-age and above – kids may find some of the physical humor entertaining, but the witty dialogue is best appreciated by those with a little life experience to back it up. Overall, a great comedy to see for a friends’ night out or just for a good laugh.
Dog of the South adapted by Jane Jones. Center House Theater at the Seattle Center (305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA 98109). through March 8th For tickets, www.book-it.org or call (206) 216-0833.