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In Their New Home

This Thursday at StageWorks/Hudson, Walking the Dog theater presents the North American premiere of a new British play, The Storm, and it’s been a long, strange trip for this theater troupe. From its origins in Australia nearly nine years ago, Walking the Dog has performed in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and, for the past five years, in Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York. It’s an eclectic mix of venues for a group that has presented an eclectic mix of productions: Shakespearean comedies, one-actor performance art, company-prepared adaptations of folk tales, and contemporary dramas.

“It’s a unique moment for us, this transition from being a traveling company to a resident company,” David Anderson, WTD’s founder (and an actor, director, or writer for all its productions), said in a recent phone interview. “Saying ‘yes’ to a place, finding our place is an interesting question, with new people coming in, new ventures . . . it’s exciting.”

A troupe that seeks to have an impact on its community, Walking the Dog works with schools in Wisconsin (Anderson’s home state) and Illinois, as well as with the local Hawthorne Valley school; a program working with adults is in the works for January 2007, to be headquartered at the Hudson Opera House. “We started in this area working with the summer ‘Shakespeare Alive’ program, and when that became a full-year, credit-bearing course as a satellite of Sunbridge College, we’ve looked for other projects,” Anderson stated.

The non-Equity troupe was inspired to produce The Storm after Anderson saw the 2005 London premiere at the Globe Theatre, starring Mark Rylance. “It’s a very funny play, and the language is brilliant. A friend of a friend knows the playwright, Peter Oswald, and he was very keen on having us do the American premiere. None of his works have been done in the States, but he’s a very hot writer in England.” Described in London reviews as being “an absolute delight; a delicious blend of the risqué and the absurd,” The Storm has a very stylized aesthetic, a mix of verbal twistings and physical humor.

These qualities fit well with Walking the Dog’s aesthetic, utilizing Michael Chekhov’s (one of the many off-shoots of Stanislaviski’s method) acting techniques; the idea is the actor’s imagination melding with his physical life and dreamworld, and how those impact an ensemble. Anderson touts the benefits of WTD’s established core: “We build up a substance between artists, like a jazz ensemble, you know, where someone picks up the drumbeat after your sax solo. . . . We’ve got a common language from Chekhov, the same kinds of movement, giving us a common ground.”

The Storm adds to this core with a new director, Charles Kondek.

“Charles Kondek’s not a Chekhov director as such,“ Anderson said, “but he came highly recommended. He’s great with physical humor, playing with language, and he’s very skilled in this type of comedy. He’s got a light touch, but he gives clear direction. He leaves a lot of room for the actor to try out ideas, explore, and that helps the ensemble element strongly.”

Bringing in a new actor, Jim Lawrence, and sometime collaborator Frank Serpico (the famed former New York City police detective and activist) enriched The Storm, according to Anderson: “We were really interested in new impulses and new people, and these different collaborations and new impulses excite us.”

The Storm,” he added, “is really risky, and Lawrence and Kondek bring a unique style to this play. After Burn This’ [September’s production] ‘learn your lines don’t bump into the furniture’ style, The Storm is a real departure. Our core audience might not like this, but it’s a chance to expand our audience, challenge us in the material. I was scared to death of it, and that’s the sign to go in there and work with it.”

The Storm runs Nov. 9-11 and 15-18 at 8 PM; and Sundays Nov. 12 and 19, at 3 PM. Visit www.wtdtheater.org for reservations.

—James Yeara

 

Full House

Last Sunday, Historic Albany Foundation hosted the annual fund-raiser for their Vacant Buildings Initiative at the Cathedral of All Saints on Swan Street in Albany. Vacancy: Albany’s Abandoned Buildings Through Artists’ Eyes was a one-night exhibition of locally made art reflecting the artists’ interpretations of the local “built environment.” The gala included a juried program and auction, and, we think, served a worthy cause.

 

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