By John Quinn
I was looking for a treat All Hallows’ Eve, since the weather was playing the meanest trick of the night. Fortunately, Planet Ant Theatre debuted a frightfully funny new comedy, “The Dogman Prophecies,” a collaborative effort of the “Ant Process” class and their mentor/director, Shawn Handlon.
As Handlon describes in his curtain speech, companies like The Second City employ improvisational techniques to develop sketch comedies – shows composed of short vignettes. Sometimes the scenes are thematic, but it ain’t necessarily so. The “Ant Process” takes improv another step to create a complete, integrated play. Director Handlon and his “minions” – Jon Canniff, Jaclynn Cherry, Moni Jones, Clint Lohman and Jason Petterson, the Ant Class – tackle a woolly tale of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.
Every region in the world has its mysterious sightings. The Nepalese Yeti and American Bigfoot are probably the most familiar to the general public, and it’s not surprising that metro Detroiters, although probably acquainted with the Red Dwarf, may not have heard of the Dogman. According to the website, Unexplained-mysteries.com: “One of the more unusual cryptozoological mysteries, the Dogman, is said to be a strange bipedal hominid with the head of a dog and the body of a man. First reported as far back as 1887, sightings of creatures resembling the description of the Dogman have been pouring out of Michigan and other neighboring states ever since.” So don’t confuse “The Dogman Prophecies” with “The Mothman Prophecies,” a rather sketchy 2002 flick about a North Carolina para-abnormality. The film’s twice as long, and Richard Gere not half as funny.
Inflamed by a gruesome police account of his dog’s death, Billy Becker arrives in Gaylord, Mich., hunting the cano-humanoid who, it’s reported, is the murderer. Regretfully, his mission is complicated by the escape of the genetically altered lab animals from a secret government research facility in rural Otsego County. The cuddly kitty cats are actually “vampurrs” with a thirst for human blood. Death and destruction ensue, but the screams are mostly screams of laughter in the audience.
Light and vulgar, “The Dogman Prophecies,” isn’t a play for everyone. It will have instant appeal to anyone who enjoys a spoof of cherished cultural traditions – in this case, horror stories. Experienced theater patrons, especially improvisation fans, will find interest in analyzing the creative process. The play retains a loose sketch comedy structure, and the individual scenes are more self-contained than conventional comedies. What at first appear as three unrelated themes are eventually braided into one coherent story line – but much later in the plot than usual. This allows for a goodly amount of time to play with the comic elements. As a collaborative project, “Dogman” is a success.
Like ladies at a quilting bee, the half dozen contributors to “The Dogman Prophecies” have stitched up a patchwork. The play is no Frankenstein Monster, though. If it actually were a quilt, it’s tight enough to be warming even on a snowy November night.
‘The Dogman Prophecies’
Planet Ant Theatre
2357 Caniff, Hamtramck
9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7
9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8
55 minutes; no intermission