Published on 06 October 2020 | Written by Kathy McAuley | Print | Email
The new play from Crowded Kitchen Players recounts a memorable month in the life of Xavier Books, a popular and successful high school football coach – who also happens to be Black.
When he decides to run for mayor in his small, mostly white Pennsylvania town, the forces of ignorance, hatred and fear try to thwart his aspirations. Friends abandon him. Regional and national media swarm to laud and assail him. Soon Books finds himself engulfed in a web of accusations, threats and lies.
This is the story line of “Dogcatcher,” the 87th production by Crowded Kitchen and the 14th written by co-founder Ara Barlieb. Dogcatcher Poster
Coach Books is played by veteran actor William Alexander who has played leads in several CKP shows including “The Softening of Her Eyes,” “The Suicide Club,” “The Fall of Heaven,” “Tovarich,” and more.
The play has a seasoned and diverse supporting cast of 18 including Melissa Andrews, Bruce Brown, Jerry Brucker, Trish Cipoletti, Dawn Daignault, Tom Epstein, Judy Evans, Dan Ferry, Sharon Ferry, David Oswald, Alexandria Racines, Donald M. Swan, Jr., Florence Taylor, Carla Thew, Sarah Thomas, Pamela Wallace, Nancy Welch and Felecia White.
Although intended to be presented as a traditional live performance in front of an audience, the challenges of COVID-19 demanded a radical change in plans. So Barlieb and his cast have divided the production into a series of seven 20 to 25-minute episodes which they’re filming in preparation for streaming on Thursdays at 800PM on Oct. 15, 22, 29 and nightly at 800PM Oct. 30, 31 and Nov. 1, 2, with the intention to run all episodes before the presidential election Nov. 3 to call attention to the consequences of America’s persistent racism.
“Most of us don’t have the means to engineer social change,” Barlieb said, “but we can speak up and show our support for sweeping and long-overdue change, and we can try to do better. Those are things artists can do – and with this production, we hope to do it well.”
At the same time, CKP recognized the danger of close contact between audience and performer so a live performance was not advised. In the filmed versions, COVID-19 still lurks in the background of the drama: Cast members wear masks when their characters would wear them -- at a public meeting, for example -- but not while “at home.”
The filming is taking place without an audience at CKP’s home theatre, the Charles A. Brown IceHouse in Bethlehem. The episodes will be available on CKP’s Facebook page, on Live from IceHouse Tonight You Tube channel, and on the IceHouse Tonight Facebook page.
This is not the first time the Players have translated their stage productions to other media. They recently produced a radio version of “Twelveness” by Charlie Barnett, and produced a CD of their comedy “The Down of a Thistle.”
Each episode of “Dogcatcher” begins with remarks by actual Ku Klux Klan members filmed by Barlieb and partner Pamela Wallace in 1990 at a rally in Snyder County, PA. “The KKK members are saying what a lot of Americans are still thinking today,” Barlieb said. “We wanted to confront the audience with the consequences today of these views,” Barlieb said.
The title “Dogcatcher” comes from the name of a long-gone public office, Barlieb says. “I believe there was only one elected dogcatcher left in the country till the office was eliminated in 2018 in Duxbury, VT. It also refers to the old put-down, ‘He couldn’t get elected to dogcatcher in this town.’”
CKP decided to do the play in episodes because of the nature of watching things on screens instead of live on stage. Over a two or three-hour play, screen viewers are subject to the hundreds of life’s distractions and would find it difficult to sit through a two-hour production, even though they often sit for even longer shows when they’re live.
“That’s an awful lot to ask of someone stuck at home with the kids,” he said.
Nevertheless, CKP will eventually release the entirety of “Dogcatcher” either available for streaming or as old-fashioned live theatre. They will be archived on the CKP website and the IceHouse Tonight YouTube and Facebook sites. There is no “ticket” cost, but CKP is an all-volunteer organization and ticket income barely covers the cost of renting the auditorium. Thus, a donation of $10 for the series is suggested to help cover some of the costs.
Crowded Kitchen has been very busy despite the intervention of the coronavirus. In March of this year, they were ready to present “The Rising,” a performance based on historic stories from the Irish Rebellion of 1916; it was cancelled the day before opening because of the virus. Their June production was to be “The Book of Revelation: A Comedy” which also was cancelled. Rehearsals for “Dogcatcher” began during spring via the internet.
Barlieb assured us these productions will resurface when the theatre world returns to more traditional times. For more information, please visit www.ckplayers.com.