Review: THE FOUND DOG RIBBON DANCE - An Entertainingly Fresh & Original Exploration Into Human Behavior

By: Jan. 23, 2017

THE FOUND DOG RIBBON DANCE/by Dominic Finocchiaro/directed by Alana Dietze/Atwater Village Theatre/thru February 26, 2017

The Echo Theatre Company's world premiere of playwright Dominic Finocchiaro's THE FOUND DOG RIBBON DANCE succeeds in all its combined creative elements - clever, thought-provoking dialogue from Finocchiaro, emoted via a uniformly talented cast, and directed in a quick and smooth pace by Alana Dietze.

Norma, a professional cuddle therapist takes in an abandoned dog. In between seeing her initially somewhat skeptical clients, Norma makes attempts at finding 'Dog's' owner.

Norm's awkwardly performed ribbon dance to Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" starts the show off by setting the off-balanced tone to soon follow. The theatrical device of having an actor portray 'Dog' become immediately easy to swallow as mimed by Daniel Hagen. Hagen nuzzles, plays catch and claims his space on the bed just as a canine dog would. His only utterances are "Bark! Bark!"

Amanda Saunders and Steven Strobel excel, alternately mortifying and entrancing as Norma and Norm. Norma's first introduced with a new client, the very paranoid Dave (fully embodied by Eric Gutierrez). Saunders smoothly obliterates the lines between acting and play-acting as a therapist. Saunders' Norma constantly keeps you guessing as to whether she's being sincere or just saying what she thinks her clients are paying her for.

When Norma first encounters Norm, theirs isn't as much of a meet-cute as an uncomfortable TMI (too much information) train wreck. Strobel charms as the socially, maladjusted barista who performs his private dances and watches black-and-white sitcoms.

As possible Dog owners, Gabriel Notarangelo and Julie Dretzin both deliver full-ranges of emotions as owners hoping to find their respective lost pup. Notarangelo colorfully plays the skate-boarder Colt with a love/hate relation with his missing 'Zeke.' But is he just being macho to not show his real feelings of missing his dog? Dretzin charges into Norma's house as the controlling businesswoman Miranda. A true Type-A personality, Miranda's not used to not having her way. Dretzin's nails Miranda's personality transitions.

The other of Norma's clients receive specific, three-dimensional characterizations from Gregory Itzin (as Xeno, a man of very few words), Clarissa Thibeaux (as Trista, a low-esteemed teen) and West Liang (as Harrison, a high-strung businessman).

In the course of the cuddling sessions, Finocchiaro makes us wonder if it's the cuddle therapist doling out the therapy or the reverse? Don't want to give away any spoilers, but surprises frequently make themselves known, in most entertaining ways.

Kudos to scenic designer Kirk Wilson for his multi-set arrangement (with simple set pieces indicating (barista counter, cafe table, dog park, Norm's apartment) all laid out around Norma's rustic platform bed.

THE FOUND DOG RIBBON DANCE's a good play to see for dog lovers, for any intrigued by the wide spectrum of human behavior, and for all aficionados of good theatre.



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