How Different is a Dog from a Man?

Elizabeth Sherwood reviews the reading of a new play, “Schnauzer” by David Yezzi

There is something exhilarating about seeing a brand new play that has never been performed before. No one in the audience has any idea of what will come next. In most cases, readings, as opposed to staged performances, are especially enjoyable because they procure, by nature, a relaxed atmosphere. It’s almost a test-run. The actors are not usually off book and the audience has already accepted the fact that the reading is a trial period for a particular piece. A script separates the actors from the audience, and the focus is on the playwright’s words. Therefore, a special bond is shared between the playwright, everyone involved in the production, and the audience. Will the audience laugh at the expected time? Feel sad? Get it?

“Schnauzer” was the first reading back in February of the newly established “Baltimore Poets Theater,” a group of Baltimore-based artists interested in staging new verse dramas. The playwright is one of the founders of said group. The host of the reading was LitMore, Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts, which is located in the top floor of a gallery in Hampden. The front of the building is unassuming, but the inside is vibrant, colorful, and full of art.

A quick walk upstairs brings you to a cluster of plain rooms, one with many chairs set up in the style of a theater, although it was dimly lit and comfortable like a living room. This made for an intimate reading. The only issue was that the room had no door, or if it did, no door was used. At one point one could very clearly hear people walking up and down the stairs, which was disruptive.

The upstairs floor of LitMore.
The upstairs floor of LitMore.

The reading begins. Two actors, Claire Aniela (Shayla) and Austin Allen (Clip) talk in a college dorm room in the 90s. The opening scene is basically a monologue by Shayla, who talks to a miffed Clip, who is being held captive, about a man she loved and his dog, her dog, and the different dog parks in New York. There is a point when Clip speaks and she calls him “such a little puppy dog.” Words like “ruff” and “sniff” accentuate the theme of the play.

In the second scene, Clip is older, living in the suburbs with his wife Pam, played by Katherine Robinson. Pam is a housewife, clearly ignored by her husband. He sits and listens to “Happy” by the Rolling Stones while she talks to the audience. At one point, she barks at him to get his attention. She comes to an epiphany that she should leave him.

In the chorus, Allen plays a dog in a dog park. The main male character was playing a dog chasing pigeons in a park and almost has a rhythmic score. This seemed to not be received by the audience, as they did not react to it. However, immediately after this chorus is the third scene where he is back as Clip, who is in a coma in a hospital bed.

For the most part, the actors did not move out of their chairs. At times it was awkward to hear the stage directions and not see them being done. The only real prop used were headphones that Clip used to drone out Pam. Such is the nature of readings, as opposed to staging a full-fledged play.

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The actors (L to R) Katherine Robinson, Austin Allen, and Claire Aniela take a bow.

The reading was directed by Brandon R. Weber, a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins, and the stage directions were read by the stage manager, Mollie Rotmensch, a current Hopkins student. David Yezzi is a poet and professor with the Writing Seminars at Hopkins. The dramaturge was Q-mars Haeri, an MA student at MICA. The play was adapted from a poem of the same name by David Yezzi, which was published in 2011 in Linebreak, an online magazine of original poetry.

These associations tie in with the group’s focus: according to the program, the “Baltimore Poets Theater” is “a group of actors, dramatists, filmmakers, and poets – many of them associated with the Writing Seminars and the Theatre Arts and Studies Program at Johns Hopkins – committed to presenting verse drama, in both its classic and modern forms.”

Despite the noise, LitMore was an excellent spot to host the reading, which ran about an hour. The room had a great ambient glow that was perfect for a casual reading, and I think this played a part in the audience receiving the piece so well. The room was intimate and cozy and I believe that if the piece were performed on a stage, there would have been more of a barrier between the audience and the performers.

The organization offers workshop-style classes and, according to its website, “provides activities and opportunities that address the needs of writers as well as artists and organizations that work with writers.” Here’s to hoping that more plays will debut in this space.
A reading of “Schnauzer,” a new play by David Yezzi
February 27, 2015, 7 PM
LitMore: Baltimore’s Center for the Literary Arts
3326 Keswick Rd, Baltimore, Maryland 21211

Elizabeth Sherwood is a Baltimore-based writer and exuberant pursuer of adventure and travel.


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