“Dog Explosion” is UNLV faculty member and playwright Sean Clark’s darkly humorous take-off on Chekov’s “Three Sisters.” But you can enjoy Clark’s macabrely funny meditation on the accidents of life without reading too much into it.
When older sister Naomi returns home from work at the local Utotem in Columbia, Mo., she finds her brother Matt picking up pieces of their house, which blew up in an accidental explosion. How the explosion happens is too funny to give away, but suffice it to say that members of PETA should perhaps skip this show. Mama has been killed in the accident and it turns out that this is not the first family fatality that’s resulted from Matt’s accident-prone nature.
Jesse Bourque’s hapless Matt is so earnest that he makes the humor all the blacker.
Naomi, played by Amber Bonasso, responds with some of the funniest deadpan stares I’ve ever seen. Their discussion of Mama’s demise is packed with throwaway lines, as when Matt suggests to Naomi over Mama’s corpse that she “have some cold pork chops” for dinner. The two interact with flawless comic timing.
Naomi and Matt decide to bury Mama’s body in the garden, “with the string beans, never did like okra.” In a harrowing and hilarious piece of stage business, Bourque and Bonasso proceed to drag Mama’s body about the stage. Sandy Hundley as Mrs. McCall is funnier dead than most actors are when alive and she suffers numerous bodily indignities with slapstick as classic as an “I Love Lucy” episode.
Upon this grotesque scene stumbles little sister Charlotte, who rushed home when she felt something stir within her during her Southern Baptist prayer circle. One anticipates that Clark will let rip his full absurdist wit with this character, but Jasmine Mathews faces a tougher challenge since Charlotte is presented fairly straight by Clark. Mathews is impressive because her character’s religiosity is more thoughtful than funny. Charlotte almost becomes the “straight man” to Naomi and Matt. When Charlotte declares, “I am holier than both of thou,” Matt responds, in another of the play’s funny throwaways, “Want a donut?”
Charlotte believes that Mama will resurrect and Mathews is convincing enough that we believe her. As the three siblings bicker over life’s disappointments, Clark sets up an odd suspense when Matt asks, “What happens if something happens?”
Naomi, who used to teach high school, had a chance to leave Columbia with her life’s love, Bill Wanderlich, but she says, “I didn’t want to move to Kansas City to be the same.” She dreams about going to New Orleans. As the older sibling, she is resentful she stayed home to take care of everyone else. Charlotte accuses Naomi of resenting her faith because of her happiness.
Charlotte’s faith makes her neglectful of earthly concerns; she forgot to pay the electric bill. Naomi tells her that her idea of the world is “a shopping mall in Kansas City.”
Charlotte accuses Naomi of being a negative person. Naomi reminds Charlotte, “Wanting to believe something doesn’t make it true.” Though Charlotte prays for her family every day, their house blew up anyway.
While the two sisters spar, Jesse Bourque’s Matt nearly brings down the house simply by stuffing his mouth full of powdered sugar-coated mini-donuts. He acknowledges that he hasn’t lived up to Naomi’s expectations. He says, “I screw up so much, I ought to get the hang of setting things right.”
Director Francisco Menendez enlivens Clark’s words with sight gags that add dimension to their meaning. For example, the characters continually fill a washtub with empty beer cans only to dump them all out again signifying Clark’s larger questions about the futility of life. Dana Moran William’s set design quickly establishes the play’s humorous pathos.
Nevada Conservatory Theatre proves its purpose by featuring this significant and entertaining work by a resident Las Vegas playwright as its season opener.