Stray Dog’s New Works Laboratory Looks At Work-In-Progress, “Dispersion”

A unique look at a work in progress is being offered at Stray Dog’s home at Tower Grove Abbey. Admission is free but the chance to see a new play in development is priceless. Playwright Joel Henning Doty and the cast is on hand after the play to join the audience in a discussion of the work. And the work, “Dispersion,” is a fascinating look at a family drama with one twist- the mother is in a coma and only the audience and an on stage “angel” can hear her reactions to those around her.

The title comes from the mother’s fascination with prisms and the way the clear light refracts and explodes in various colors as it passes through the glass crystals. This clearly becomes a metaphor for her and her family as their opinions of the “worth” of her life in the coma disperse in every direction, dividing the family even more than it already is. The daughter who is ready to sign the papers to take her off life support, the son who believes she may still recover, the adopted daughter who may understand her better than her natural offspring and the deceased father who appears in flashback all show a dysfunctional family that may- or may not- come together after this tragedy.

The play is given a minimally staged presentation with actors on stage with scripts using few set pieces and props. Minimum rehearsals and a lot of rewriting and discussion went on leading up to this three-performance week-end presentation. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell, directed with a wonderful cast that included Andra Harkins as the mother, Charlotte, Katie Puglisi as the nurse/angel, Rachel Hanks as the daughter, Aaron Paul Gotzon as the son, Alyssa Ward as the adopted daughter and Chuck Lavazzi as the husband. They managed to bring the characters to vivid life despite carrying scripts.

Then the audience gets to put in their two-cents’ worth and the comments varied from high praise to truly helpful suggestions. As director Bell noted before the discussion started, there are no “bad” comments- everything is helpful when you’re trying to get a show from page to stage. The actors also got a chance to comment on how the process worked for them and how they managed to develop their characters in a shorter rehearsal period.

Who knows if “Dispersion” will evolve any further than workshop? Playwright Joel Henning Doty is a member of the Dramatists Guild and has had several successful productions of her work find fruition in the past. This one certainly has that potential even though, like any work at this point, does need a little fine tuning. We’re just thankful for the opportunity to see the work and, hopefully, help start it on the road to that success. Join the crowd at Stray Dog Theatre this week-end and take advantage of the opportunity to see this rare event.

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