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Review: A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre Company & Playwrights' Arena

Inda Craig-Galván's new play puts lockdown realities on stage

Review: A HIT DOG WILL HOLLER at Skylight Theatre Company & Playwrights' Arena

"Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness." from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

As Skylight Theatre's website prepares us for their new collaboration with Playwrights' Arena, they intone that the premiere of Inda Craig-Galván's A Hit Dog Will Holler "investigates Black experience in this country openly". It certainly does. And with two designated Black Communities Performances, several "Pay What You Want" evenings, and the option online to pay tickets forward, they seem ready to put their money where their mouth is and open this investigation to those who may traditionally be barred from the theatrical space. Craig-Galván's text- in its narrative, in its vernacular, in its pacing, in its humor, in its wit, in its pain, in its ultimate resilience- is immutably Black. The play explores the friendship between Gina, a self-proclaimed "wordsmith" whose liberal "activism" channels through her popular podcast and a pending book deal, and Dru, the young "Banksy of the Black Lives Matter movement". After witnessing their chance encounter in which Dru delivers Gina her breakfast, we recognize our own fears, confusions, and senses of helplessness as the two navigate the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the historical events of the past two years. While still being an immutably and irrefutably Black play, it also becomes a piece about social media, about womanhood, about identifying our own roles in fighting systemic injustice, and about intergenerational divides.

I feel like everyone I know checks with me and makes sure that I watched Hacks on HBO. I finally did, and I felt that the ham-fisted, Lauren-Gunderson-esque writing of "older woman who may just have some wisdom up her sleeve" versus "young smart-ass who may still have some learning to do" was so preachy and didactic that I felt my own intelligence insulted by the viewing (and by the repeated recommendations.) The highest praise I can give to Craig-Galván is that, in A Hit Dog Will Holler, we have no sense of either character standing in for the author. The second highest praise I can give is that neither character seems to be an encapsulation of a demographic or the figurehead of a political identity. The writer imbues both women with admirable ideals and understandable weaknesses while slyly letting the audience in on the truth that neither is perfect. Gina's waifish liberalism is on display early on as she giggles about some unnamed orange fool before lionizing Michelle Obama's fitness regimen, and Dru's dismissal of Gina's deeply-felt anxieties is regretted once she more fully understands the concrete antagonist waiting just outside the door. Wherever we stand in our work against systemic injustice, we see a refraction in this play, and are met, not with an enlightened invitation to do more or a stern instruction to do differently, but an insurmountable, unavoidable reminder that while we struggle together, none of us have all the answers.

Cheri Vandenheuvel packs so much opposing warmth and vivacity in Gina that, even at her most insufferably self-righteous, we root for her. At the end of the day, the play tracks Gina's journey and, whether reviewing her notes in soliloquy, speaking to her boss (no her publisher) via Bluetooth, or trying to explain her fears of the outside world to Dru in exquisitely-crafted monologue, Vandenheuvel lends a fullness and depth to a complex character, never allowing her to slink back into two-dimensions. She may not play a Gina that we necessarily like, but her Gina is one whom we recognize, and I hazard that the parts of her Gina we dislike are parts that we may recognize in ourselves. Kacie Rogers' Dru is imbibed with a youthful, spritely energy that never feels forced and never asks our pity. She holds her own in Vandenheuvel's play, just as Dru acclimates to Gina's apartment. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera creates a universe, aided by Jan Munroe's clever set design, that feels claustrophobic and limited. The use of projection, which so often becomes trite and cliche, remains pertinent to the narrative at hand, giving a perfect glimpse of the way national news seemed to pop the bubble of many of our pandemic sanctuaries.

For a ninety minute piece, the energy never falters. From one moment to the next, we are invested in the reality laid out before us, even if it is eerily recognizant to our own recent realities. It is difficult for me, a white man, to broadly say, "go see this show." I was deeply affected by it, but it is not a medicinal experience, its purpose is not to enlighten white audiences, and I was acutely aware that Black audience members near me on opening night had a sharply different experience of the piece than I. My recommendation, is that it is a play that encapsulates the psyche of one individual over the past two years. If one is open to confronting the ways one's individuality coincided with (uplifted, negated, resisted, expanded, avoided, etc.) the recent events facing our collective consciousness, this play is a worthwhile watch. I'd imagine, as the press listing warns, anyone not prepared to confront recent realities in this way would find this piece troubling, or worse, would find this piece mundane. Anyone looking to reflect upon collective trauma from another's perspective and to, perhaps as Audre Lorde describes, allow guilt to become "the beginning of knowledge" should check out this work.

A Hit Dog Will Holler runs through December 12 at the Skylight Theatre. More information here.

From This Author - Andrew Child

Andrew is a multimedia artist whose work as a director, animator, choreographer, performer, and designer has been seen on stages and screens all over Boston, Argentina, and Italy. His writing&... (read more about this author)

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