The Operating System

SOUND / STAGE :: DOG DAYS


Dog Days from Beth Morrison Projects on Vimeo.
DOG DAYS [World Premiere]
September 29 – Oct 5

David T. Little’s long-awaited debut full-length opera, Dog Days, created in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek, and based on the eponymous short story by Judy Budnitz (1998), opens a run of five performances: Sep. 29, Oct. 6 at 8:00 PM; Sep. 30, Oct. 7 at 3:00 PM; Oct. 5 at 7:30 PM. The fully-staged production, directed by Robert Woodruff, premieres at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, NJ.
Last February was when things started happening. The plant closed. That meant my dad was out of work and sulking around the house all day. He’d sit and drink in front of the TV, his face big and red and his eyes all tiny from the drinking. He’d sit all scrunched up in the chair, his big head right on his shoulders like he had no neck at all. He’d watch the morning news, the news at noon, the evening news. “Aren’t you going to look for another job?” my mother would ask. My dad would point to the TV screen and say, “What’s the use?”

There’s nothing to do; it’s deathly quiet. No cars running since the gasoline ran out. People stay in their houses now. Nobody goes out. When you do, you can see people watching you from their windows, from behind curtains, all up and down the street. Everyone sits and waits. That’s the worst of it, sitting and waiting. For what? The attack? Should we look at the sky? Should we look down the road? Dad keeps the news in the paper to himself. The government delivers the paper, once a week. Dad says you can’t believe a word of it anyway. But still he reads it and chews his lip.

The worst of it is the animals. Sometime in July, they all went away, every one. You don’t think about it really, until they’re gone. Then the silence. No birds singing. No squirrels doing acrobatics in the trees or knocking in the attic. Even the crickets–gone. The pets have disappeared. My mother’s cat, Polka Dot, wandered off long ago. She cried about it for days. Pets that couldn’t get out died in their cages. My pet goldfish, belly-up in the bowl. Are they all dead, all those missing animals? Or did they all go somewhere else, a great exodus in the middle of the night? The flock, the pack, the herd, the horde of them. Two by two down the road? To somewhere safe? We’ll never know.
 – excerpted from Judy Budnitz “Dog Days,” from the short story collection Flying Leap, 1998.
In May, we introduced you to the genre-defying multimedia chamber opera, Song From the Uproar, a story derived from the notebooks and life of adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt, who died at the tender age of 27.
But this production only begins to scratch the surface of the important role that producer Beth Morrison, and her company, Beth Morrison Projects, play in a scene that is becoming, decidedly, less and less “underground” — much thanks to innovative, collaborative projects like Uproar and the new adaptation of Dog Days, which has its world premiere this coming week.
We can recall not too long ago a time when the relationship of the “general” public to genres such as musical theatre, classical music, and opera had to a certain extent become increasingly strained, even as the first of those three continued to draw crowds due to its propensity for, erm, crowdpleasers, blockbusters, and a good heaping of nostalgia.
However, modern, genre-bending successes (beginning perhaps with RENT, a harbinger for the wave of new work like Urinetown, Spring Awakening, In the Heights, Avenue Q, Next to Normal, The Book of Mormon, and so on) began to  attract new audiences, to whom the frankness, humor, and updated musical sensibilities more readily appealed.
There has also been an explosion of genre-flexible crossover acts in the popular music scene, as well, which has opened up the field of new and post-classical music to an ever-growing audience, particularly via experimental concert series, online music sharing, and publications targeting the young, creative demographic so hungry for an avant-aesthetic.
Pairing inspired, multimedia staging with new, young composers and storytellers, a Beth Morrison opera becomes somehow both visionary fantasy and relatable, personal, narrative — something very unique to this moment. For anyone with a literary bent, it is exciting the familiar American experience so deftly handled in the original short story transmuted into this medium, which makes it somehow simultaneously more epic and more human.
Based on the 1998 short story by Judy Budnitz, Dog Days investigates the psychology of a working class American family against a not-so-distant-future wartime scenario. It asks: is it madness, delusion, or animal instinct that guides us through severely trying times? Where exactly is the line between animal and human? At what point must we give in to our animal instincts merely to survive?
Told predominantly from the perspective of Lisa (Lauren Worsham, soprano), a thirteen-year-old girl, we watch as the world slowly falls apart around her. Her family progressively starves, her mother (Marnie Breckenridge, soprano) gives up on life, and her father, Howard (James Bobick, baritone), struggles to fulfill his own myth of the provider.
Her brothers, Pat and Elliot (Peter Tantsits and Michael Marcotte, tenors), get in trouble with the military state, as represented by Soldier/Apparatchik (Cherry Duke, mezzo soprano), turning to misconduct and recreational drug use in a futile attempt to escape the bleakness of their lives. Prince (John Kelly), a man in a dog suit, appears on the family’s doorstep begging for food. Is he mad, or the only one who can still see clearly? No one can be sure.
David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s surreal adaptation of the story, developed in collaboration with director RoBert Woodruff, infuses elements of modern music-theater and rock to shape its disturbing prediction of the future.
Dog Days is a contemporary opera in three acts — Summer (Scenes 1-5), Fall (Scenes 6-9), and Winter (Scenes 10-11) — with a Prologue, a brief intermission after the first act, and a final Epilogue. Set and video design by Jim Findlay, lighting design by Matt Frey, costume design by Vita Tzykun. Duration: 127 minutes.The three-act opera features Little’s acclaimed “punk-classical” chamber music group, Newspeak, and a cast of seven: performance artist John Kelly alongside singers James Bobick, Marnie Breckenridge, Cherry DukeMichael MarcottePeter Tantsits, and Lauren Worsham. Alan Pierson conducts. All tickets are $15 and are available at the Alexander Kasser Theater Box Office, by calling 973-655-5112 or online at http://www.peakperfs.org.
 
 

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