‘Dogcatcher’ Episode 1 foreshadows trouble for Black candidate

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‘Dogcatcher’ Episode 1 foreshadows trouble for Black candidate

a review by Kathy McAuley

A traditional theatre review looks at an entire production, defines what the artists are trying to do and renders an opinion about how well they did it. In this tradition, writing a review when you’ve only seen 15 percent of the play cheats everyone involved. But these are not traditional times, so here goes… will

Crowded Kitchen Players are trying an interesting experiment – they’re presenting a stage play as a seven-part YouTube series. Ara Barlieb’s, “Dogcatcher” was intended for presentation before a live audience when COVID-19 intervened. Not only did the City of Bethlehem close their IceHouse venue, theatre-goers were warned against going anywhere near a public gathering, so even if they risked doing the play, they figured nobody would want to sit in a theatre full of coughing virus-spreaders.

But with Barlieb and crew, the show must go on. So on Oct. 15, Episode 1 made its online debut and proved that although the medium is unorthodox, it does not substantially get in the way of the message. And that message is tailor-made for the times.

Barlieb filmed the episodes in the empty IceHouse auditorium and said when – or if -- the world returns to “normal,” he will put it all back together in the traditional format and stage it for a live audience. But as a career videographer, Barlieb also know how to take advantage of the video medium in ways he couldn’t do in live theatre.

Timed to run during election season, “Dogcatcher” is a political drama about a popular high school coach who is drafted by the city fathers to run for mayor of a small Pennsylvania town. But the coach is Black and though we don’t know what Parts 2 through 7 have in store for him, Part 1 makes it clear that it can’t be very good.

For one clue, the title refers to the old-fashioned insult “You couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in this town.” Next, Barlieb foreshadows racial trouble in the chilling opening scene, a video interview of the Grand Dragon of the Pennsylvania Ku Klux Klan shot years ago for an unproduced documentary on racism. Though I have not been privy to subsequent parts, Barlieb says similar KKK scenes are placed throughout the drama so that what the real Klansmen are saying blends into what the characters say in the play.

In Episode 1, Coach Xavier Books, gracefully played by veteran actor Will Alexander, is surrounded by a diverse cast of 18 CKP actors who show up as townsfolk, community leaders, party guests and football fans. We see snippets of a cocktail party in which Sharon Ferry, Trish Cipoletti, Donald Swan Jr. and others exude hate quite effectively as they expose their racist attitudes.

The message of the play becomes clear when we see a flashback of Xavier’s Granny, nicely played by Florence Taylor, warning her grandson about how to relate to whites. But the adult Xavier is charming and self-confident and believes he can deal with life’s fickle game plan.

What will happen to Coach Books, to his white girlfriend, to the townsfolk and to the town itself? We won’t know till Thursday at 8.  Stay tuned.

Part 2 will debut Oct. 22 and succeeding parts will run every Thursday evening till Thanksgiving as part of the “IceHouse Tonight “series. If Thursdays don’t work for you, after each debut, all episodes will be streaming on both platforms so you can catch up on what you missed or wait and binge watch. Another advantage to this format is that if you miss anything you can scroll back and hear it again. Because masks are worn by most cast members, it’s sometimes easy to miss a line here and there.

“Dogcatcher,” streaming online, Thursdays at 8 p.m. till Nov. 26, on the “Live from IceHouse Tonight” channel on YouTube and the ‘Live from IceHouse Tonight’ Facebook page.

There is no charge for the streaming production but contributions are encouraged to: https://www.paypal.com/palpalme/ckplayers

or  https://venmo.com/Pamela-Wallace-1