Rick Pagano's "Women with Dogs" at the Lex Theatre--Review

A Witty and Insightful Play About Relationships

Joe Nieves (as Ralph) tries to charm Danielle James (as Marcia) (Photo courtesy Girlvision).

Playwright-director Rick Pagano's new two-character play Women with Dogs explores the ups and downs of an intimate relationship. (A third character, the four-footed Bruno, is authentically cast as the dog.) Single white female Marcia is walking him somewhere in Brooklyn when policeman Ralph wants to write her up for not scooping the poop. What follows spins into a love affair that spans some considerable time, told in short scenes, each with emotional twists and turns.

Georja and Gerald had a lively conversation about the play all the way home in the car, then we had a phone interview with the playwright. What follows here recaps what we said to each other, then Mr. Pagano joins in.

Georja: The play sparkles for me with wit and insights--recognizable scenarios that can occur between men and women. They can be polar opposites on so many levels.

Gerald: L.A. theater often looks like tryouts for the big or small screens. In this case, the material might be the stuff of romantic comedy, but I was pleased to see it go deeper. And yet it didn’t go all Edward-Albee bitter, thankfully.

Georja: Putting down Edward Albee, are we?

Gerald: I think you'll agree, the relationship came off as very real--not stagey and not sitcom TV.

Dog Bruno steals his scenes, even seems to noise off on cue (Photo courtesy Girlvision).

Georja: When we first meet Marcia and Ralph, she loses several points with me for not picking up after her dog! Ralph the cop, on the other hand, is totally charming, likable, and reasonable. He (actor Joe Nieves) was so funny with his Brooklyn sayings--for example, "fugazi intellectuals," speaking of her friends. (I also loved the dog--he grunted right on cue when Ralph first kisses Marcia.

Gerald: She (actress Danielle James) is an arty Ivy-League type. You certainly wouldn't think they'd click. Of course, they do--and they don't.

Georja: She is idealistic, pessimistic, emotional. And through all that, she still manages to be charming and funny a lot of the time. He's earthy, optimistic, fun-loving. He comes on strong, as though he's a hundred percent, even though we find out later he's holding back.

Gerald: How like a man. So you're saying the stereotypes actually reinforced the theme?

Georja: Absolutely. It enabled the characters to be authentic in their differences. Even though Marcia could be harsh and critical, I could see it was coming from a deep well of frustration.

Gerald: Well, well. When she used having to go home to walk her dog as an excuse to avoid sleeping with Ralph, obviously he was the one who was frustrated.

Georja: They both were. I want to make a point that the two actors were very special. Danielle James and Joe Nieves are wonderfully cast.

Playwright-director Rick Pagano (Photo courtesy Girlvision).

At this point, Rick (the playwright-director) joins us.

Rick: I wanted to write a play that was very different than the other work I’ve done. I was interested in exploring relationships. This was my first two-character play. I also wanted to write a play in which the language was not as important as the silences between the lines, what happens between people--not verbally--so I could let the actors take over with the help of me, the director. In any given night the performance can change radically depending on how much subtext the actors bring to it. It can be very different. Relationships have to go up and down, and it’s a little like a rollercoaster ride. I didn’t want to create a traditional arc.

You'd think these two wouldn't click. They do and they don't (Photo courtesy Girlvision).

Georja: Conflicts were there from the beginning, and they never really went away, although the relationships got deeper.

Rick: Yes, thank you for seeing that. Not everyone sees that.

Gerald: I’m wondering how Rick got a microphone into our house!

Rick: You’re not the first person to say that. Several people have commented on this.

He's a cop pounding a beat and she's a career type with a fluffy dog (Photo courtesy Girlvision).

Georja: The "deciding the restaurant" scene in particular--that scene has got to be universal in any relationship. I would bet on it. And I used to live in Brooklyn, and you really nailed that guy.

Rick: My cousins are a lot like that guy. I have friends like that guy and there’s a part of me obviously in it or I wouldn’t have written it.

Gerald: Ralph is welded to the idea that he belongs in Brooklyn, isn't he?

Rick: There's an issue of pride in Brooklyn because he's a little insecure about his roots whenever he’s in an environment where people are a little wealthier or more educated. It’s part of the upscale 'Yuppieville' where she would feel more comfortable and he wouldn’t. There’s a complexity there.

Georja: I was impressed with the depth of the characters.

Rick: Harold Clurman [founder of the Group Theater] always talked about the opposite. For me there was a great secret in that--when I learned about the opposite, in that human beings are filled with contradictions. And if you can create characters with contradictions you can get to the complexity of who they really are.

Georja: Not to spoil anything, but the ending scene is somewhat open to interpretation.

Rick: I like having an ending in which ironically the text is more subtle than things that were said before and yet the subtext is so much stronger.

Georja and Gerald agree, this play make you laugh and it will make you talk about your relationships.

Women with Dogs is Rick Pagano's ninth play, as writer-director. His company Pagano-Manwiller has cast more than seventy feature films, including "Say Anything, Hotel Rwanda," and "Drugstore Cowboy." They also cast such TV hits as "24," "Picket Fences," and "Chicago Hope," winning two Emmys. Besides doing his own plays, he's cast shows on Broadway, as well as at Lincoln Center and the Mark Taper Forum.

Women with Dogs opened October 4 and will run for five weeks, closing on Sunday, November 2. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20. Box office phone: 323 960-5773

The Lex Theatre

6760 Lexington Ave.

Hollywood, CA 90038

Website: http://www.plays411.com/womenwithdogs

Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.

Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.


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