By John Quinn
The savvy gardener will tell you that a little bovine excrement makes for a fertile field. I don’t know what kind of fertilizer playwright Rick Cleveland used to enrich his imagination before turning out his 1985 charmer, “Dogman’s Last Stand,” but from the amount of male bovine excrement thrown around in this play, I might hazard a guess. I am happy to report the “green-thumbers” are right on the mark – Cleveland has reaped a bountiful harvest of entertainment.
They say in the news biz that there’s no story in “dog bites man.” If “man bites dog,” well, you’re on to something. Yet “dog bites a punk of a paperboy who has an affinity for firecrackers” starts this plot rolling.
We can infer Dogman Thompson earned his nickname by taking in stray pooches. His favorite canine companion, “John Wayne,” is so ashamed of his momentary madness he’s off hiding under the bed and we never get to meet him. “Dog” is waiting on his porch for the inevitable visit from the police. Although a laid-off steel worker in a run-down mill town, he’s obviously a force to be reckoned with. He’s not giving up John Wayne for quarantine and we may yet have the story “man bites cop” as tomorrow’s headline. Instead, he is joined by his younger and equally unemployed co-worker, Wally. The outcome is an existential afternoon as the men hash out the mysteries of life, love and dogs. “Dogman’s Last Stand” is “Waiting for Godot” for the Common Man.
But on the topic of male bovine excrement – not only is it one of Dogman’s favorite expletives, he’s also not above tossing it around in the form of stories of dubious authenticity. The playful prankster is so fickle we are uncertain about his past. We’re uncertain about his future. We can only grasp a timeless “now.” It’s a very engaging device.
The Theatre Company at University of Detroit Mercy offers students of the Performing Arts Department an opportunity to work on and off stage with associate guest artists and directors. It’s always a delight when the students step up to the challenge and go toe-to-toe with the pros. Under the direction of director David L. Regal, Chris Jakob is an affable, engaging Wally, almost like a puppy learning new tricks from the old “Dog.” As his girlfriend, Pam, sassy Char’Tavia Mushatt’s is a scene stealer. Also of note is a cameo by UDM faculty member Dr. Arthur J. Beer as Harry, Dogman and Wally’s laid-off colleague. Beer is so comfortable in the role it might have been written just for him.
But clearly the show belongs to Joel Mitchell. From Dogman’s first appearance in bathrobe and cowboy boots to the wishful, wistful second act curtain, Mitchell deftly handles both the comedy and pathos intrinsic in this complex character. Dogman is a hero – given to profanity, fortified by mass quantities of PBR and Wild Irish Rose. But a hero just the same. And that’s no excrement.
‘Dogman’s Last Stand’
UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove Theatre, 8424 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit. Friday-Sunday through Feb. 12. $18. 313-993-3270. http://theatre.udmercy.edu