BWW Review: Teen Playwright's THE DOG MUST DIE at Highwood Theatre
During the first Women's Voices Theatre Festival in 2015, the youngest playwright was Madison Middleton, then a sophomore in Silver Spring. Her new play, while apparently not part of the current festival, comes as a seasoned 18-year-old high school senior.
"The Dog Must Die" at the Highwood Theatre is directed by another 12th graders, Samuel Intrater, and features work from a seventh grader on lights (Simon Ellerbe), another seventh grader as master carpenter (Jonah Witte) and a carpenter crew that includes a fifth grader (Simon Bacher).
The advantage of the current production, which Middleton says first came to her in middle school, is that it involves a handful of adult actors in the cast.
Kids ordering around adults has been the basis of past science fiction stories, but this dystopian tale concentrates more on what's left of the earth in 2033, as a handful of apparently hand-picked survivors interact in the lobby of an underground bunker. Finding out the how and why of their situation is half the intrigue of "The Dog Must Die," so I won't go into too much more detail here.
How the quintet face their claustrophobic fate is a little like that of the bleak existential crisis in Sartre's "No Exit." One guy scratches the wall in desperation at one point.
As a central character, Zoe Walpole plays a scientist who takes care of the titular canine as well as an even more needy guy lounging around shaking in rags (Michael Makar). (Her name is The Girl in the Barn Coat; he's only The Man). For all of her agricultural skills, she's looked at with skepticism by two who dominate the proceedings, an especially emotional doctor (Gayle Carney) and an affable former philosophy teacher.
In that role, William Greene is a standout in both humanizing and breathing life into Middleton's sometimes wordy musings. Another good spark in the work is Nina Marti, as a specifically gender queer architect who tries to make the most of the situation.
What they've missed by their exile from the surface of the earth goes further than what they'll all do about it. Director Intrater ought to make his able cast take more time in their speeches and provide a little space between them. And while Middleton is able to often wax poetic about the situation, the ultimate denouement comes as a disappointing exit strategy.
The Highwood Theatre has been successfully honing a younger and younger theater community in Silver Spring. Maybe what's needed is insight from a younger theater reviewer as well.
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.
Photo credit: Zoe Walpole, Gayle Carney, William Greene and Nina Marti in "The Dog Must Die." Promotional photo.
"The Dog Must Die" runs through Feb. 11 at The Highwood Theater, 914 Silver Spring Ave., Silver Spring, MD. Tickets available online.