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Reviewed by:
  • An Epidog
  • Tamsen Wolff
An Epidog. By Lee Breuer. A production of Mabou Mines and The Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre. The HERE Arts Center, New York. 4 February 1996.

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Figure 1.

Frederick Neuman, Barbara Pollitt, Basil Twist, Ruth Maleczech, and Terry O’Reilly in the Mabou Mines and Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre’s production of An Epidog, written and directed by Lee Breuer. Photo: Beatriz Schiller.

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Figure 2.

Leslie (Clove Galilee) in the Mabou Mines and Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre’s production of An Epidog, written and directed by Lee Breuer. Photo: Beatriz Schiller.

During an intermission of Lee Breuer’s An Epidog, one audience member caught the punning spirit of the play and quipped “It’s fun but dogmatic.” In fact, An Epidog is fun and dogmatic. The play maintains an engaging irreverence even as it takes on the weighty topics of romantic love, oppression, and death. From feminist theory to Tantric Hinduism, nothing is addressed which is not also critiqued or ridiculed. Breuer creates a personal, political, and cosmic romp that is serious and, at the same time, can not be taken too seriously.

An Epidog starts and ends with the death of Rose the dog, the misused bitch whose story began with Breuer’s A Dog’s Life, the first of his Animations trilogy. Rose is now in the Bardo, the Buddhist spiritual plane between incarnations. Joining her in limbo is her old friend Bunny, whom Rose [End Page 367] unfortunately ripped to shreds in their previous lives when her canine nature momentarily got the better of her. As Ruth Maleczech speaks Rose’s lines and Frederick Neumann speaks Bunny’s, black-clad actors propel the two around the stage in rolling office chairs. Maleczech and Neumann, outfitted in heavy Kathakali costume and makeup, powerfully narrate different versions of Rose’s last days and death, calling up the other characters and replaying past conversations and situations. When Neumann says the first line “Rose died like a dog,” he produces from deep in his belly an enormous sound that manages to be both expansive and severe. Maleczech’s gravelly voice matches, feeds, and is fed by the actions of Rose, a Bunraku puppet beautifully designed by Julie Archer. Barbara Pollitt directed the remarkable puppetry, and is part of the trio of black-clad puppeteers who manipulate Rose by moving sticks attached to her arms, legs, and tail. The three artists work with such subtle precision and feeling that they seem to be attending to Rose’s needs rather than illustrating them.

Rose is a political animal. As Bunny tells it, Leslie (the ex-girlfriend of Rose’s old flame, John) rescues Rose from the pound, at the end of the dog’s long life of abuse. Leslie (played by Clove Galilee, the daughter of Maleczech and Breuer) has turned Rose into the feminist subject of a master’s thesis at Brown University. Lecturing to Leslie’s “gender ontologist” classmates, Rose shares her revelation (after watching the Anita Hill hearings) that she is a woman, too, since women lead dog’s lives. She is extremely well-read, knows her Diogenes, argues evolutionary theory, and has studied meditation at an animal ashram with a bovine guru named Sri Moo. This scene brings together a host of intricate animal puppets all hilariously trying to perform meditation exercises. Rose expounds on everything from the “dominance semiotics of theatre” to the “cultural history demographics of Western Civilization.” Most of Breuer’s flood of political proclamations, word games, and jargon-heavy theorizing systematically returns to the connection between oppressed woman and domesticated—or enslaved—dog. [End Page 368] At the same time, Rose the dog is never simply a metaphor for woman. Some of the play’s most wonderful moments happen when Rose, the feminist political orator, meets Rose, the itchy old bitch. At one point, in the midst of her impassioned presentation at Brown, Rose stops to bite at her belly fur, cleaning, scratching, and snapping furiously. On a coffee break from the same speech, Rose drags Leslie toward a fire hydrant, straining at her leash, and...

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