"Dog Explosion" blasts through UNLV theater
Twenty-year-old play revived for fresh run
Dog Explosion thundered through the Black Box Theatre at UNLV last week, delivering one of the most unique plays the campus has hosted in recent memory.
The show was written by one of UNLV’s own, associate professor and playwright Sean Clark, 20 years ago and has since been revised and brought back to the stage by popular demand. One of those who demanded the show to return was Film Department Chair Francisco Menendez.
Menendez, who also directed the show, said he wanted his actors to be able to move about freely and mold the scene based on the audiences’ responses to the content. And with the show staged in the unique Black Box Theater, it seems that his decision for direction was a hit.
Black box theaters consist of a four-sided room lined with bleachers, which allows each audience member to watch the constantly moving actors from any angle they please.
But for this play, one of the sets of bleachers had been taken out to make room for the star of the show — the blown up shack that was once the McCall family’s household.
The play takes off on a warm Kentucky autumn afternoon, when a scrawny, jittery Matt McCall runs across the stage, picking up pieces of roof shingles and empty beer cans.
The backdrop — one of the most miraculous parts of the show — is made up of the silhouettes of dying trees and an evening sunset of colorful backlights.
As Matt returns to the set, he explains how his beloved dog, T-Bone, has cancer and was going to be put down that morning. Instead of allowing someone else to end the life of his best friend, Matt decides to tie a stick of dynamite to T-Bone’s collar and bid him adieu.
Matt forgets to tie the dog to a tree, and finds T-Bone following him home. Sprinting to safety, he arrives home just in time to lock T-Bone out on the front porch. The trouble is, the dog doesn’t quit at trying to come back into his rusty but familiar home and — boom — goes the dynamite.
Along with his dearly departed dog, Matt manages to literally startle his sick mother to death. Matt and Naomi, his sister, devise a plan to take their mother out of the house and town before their youngest sister, Charlotte, comes back from her Baptist Youth Group. The antics leading up to the moment of Charlotte’s arrival had audience members rumbling with laughter.
With the two siblings’ commentary on the situation, saying things such as “Hey! We’re orphans now!” and “I think humans rot a lot faster than animals do … because they don’t have fur,” (you had to be there) to the stop-and-go process of moving their momma from the couch inside to the floor outside, the show really took off and brought the spectators to the edge of their seats.
And after a good 10 minutes of Matt and Naomi fumbling around to get their mother’s body into the closest thing they had to a stretcher — this being the wagon; Charlotte comes in graceful and light as can be, until she notices what her older brother and sister are up to.
She runs over to her mother and starts praying over the limp body. Charlotte claims to have ‘felt’ her mother pass even before she came home and then later feels an ‘overwhelming sense of deepness in her gut’ that she takes as a message from God that her mom will be resurrected.
Naomi hits a breaking point when she sees a small flutter of movement come from the mother. She completely loses it and swings a baseball bat into one of the remaining columns still holding up the small bit of roof that survived the initial explosion. This caused an uproar in the audience when all the shingles and bits of metal come crashing into the now definitely deceased mother.
Any hope that their mother was still alive is completely gone now as Matt first picks bits of wood and shingles from the body and then picks her up, fragile and pale-looking as ever, to take her off stage to the family’s old pickup truck.
As the rest of the debris settles, so do the sisters. Charlotte apologizes for overreacting to the death as Naomi starts to monologue. Naomi had always dreamed of living someplace bigger. Someplace like New Orleans, which she once visited while dating a man named Bill Wonderlick. She used to be happy, with a twinkle in her eye, a man in her arms and a career as a schoolteacher.
But that life fell short and she was pulled back home to aid her sick mother. The slate is clean, now, and Naomi is inspired to move on to the next chapter of her life. She announces that she’ll leave that very night, when Matt, more skittish than ever, runs back on stage talking a mile a minute.
Pieces of the story come together through his panting: He put the body in the truck and opened the garage, but the truck had been left in neutral and was now, along with his mother, sinking into the creek. It’s clear that this trio’s work is nowhere near finished.
The play, though, was indeed over; and as the cast and crewmembers emerged, line up, and bow one by one, there is a feeling that the audience wasn’t clapping because it was done, but purely because it has just begun.
From the hijinks that Matt accidently put his family through, to Charlotte’s strong sense of belief and inner joy, to maybe even Naomi’s rather new and optimistic look at life, the audience members can take a piece of this story back with them.