Tom Strelich’s dramedy, which premiered at South Coast Repertory in 1988, is back again – this time at Costa Mesa Playhouse.
The success story of a young playwright with a new play rarely has a chance to come full circle, but once in a while, that phenomenon does occur.
That’s certainly the case with Tom Strelich and his offbeat comedy-drama “Dog Logic.”
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: Sept. 13 through Oct. 6. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
How much: $18 ($16 students/seniors)
Suitability: Adult language and content
In 1988, South Coast Repertory picked up the then 34-year-old playwright’s third play and produced its world premiere, with SCR co-founder Martin Benson as director.
Now, a quarter-century later, “Dog Logic” is returning to Costa Mesa – but this time, at Costa Mesa Playhouse and directed by Sharyn Case. The veteran theater director fell in love with the play in the mid-2000s after receiving a copy of the script from a close friend – SCR’s Benson.
Case said she loves “the quirkiness and life-affirming story” of Strelich’s play, which opens on Sept. 13. She hadn’t seen SCR’s productions of “Dog Logic” or of Strelich’s 1997 black comedy “BAFO (Best and Final Offer),” but in the early 2000s, she came to know Strelich by reading “BAFO.” She pitched it to Hunger Artists Theatre Company in Fullerton and directed HATC’s 2003 production.
Two years later, Benson gave Case the “Dog Logic” script. Case called her reading of it “a life-altering experience – it was so beautiful, so poetic.”
Trouble was, she couldn’t convince any of the local theater companies to program the show into their seasons. Case “shopped it around” over a period of seven years, but “no one wanted it.”
No one, that is, until Mike Brown, CMP’s board president. Case had pitched “Dog Logic” along with several other, more conventional plays like “Inherit the Wind,” “Twelve Angry Men” and “Deathtrap.” To her surprise, Brown chose “Dog Logic.”
Brown knew neither the play nor Strelich, but was hooked by the script. “It has wonderful dialogue, is not costly to produce and is easily castable. And we like small, quirky comedies. It’s the least-known show of our current season, and we like to pick at least one show per season that hasn’t been done to death.”
The play’s plot: In the California desert, the reclusive caretaker of a rundown pet cemetery struggles against the encroachment of progress and urban sprawl. He’s forced to contend with his grasping, estranged mother, his desperate ex-wife, and an unscrupulous novice real estate broker attempting to acquire the land for a shopping mall.
In a 1988 interview with this reporter in The Orange County Register, Strelich described the play’s core. “There’s this connectivity between all things,” he said. “It’s as if there are rules at work in the universe that we obey, and that we think are out there – but we don’t know what they are. It’s an intriguing thought. There’s an order here somehow. All this fits together. Everything’s connected, but we just can’t quite say how, or why.”
Since the early ’90s, Strelich has written just two full-length plays: “Exit Strategy,” (2005), about the dot-com crash, and “Point of Sale” (2007), because, he said, “I wanted to see if I could do a simple/sweet love story.” Both received staged readings either at SCR or in New York but were never produced.
Of his six full-length plays, “Dog Logic” has proven to be Strelich’s most successful and most frequently performed work. In the period following the SCR staging, Strelich received an NEA grant to participate in several subsequent productions of the play at major regional theaters in Spokane, Wash., and St. Louis. Next, “Dog Logic” got an award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, which led to its production at the American Place Theatre in New York.
The play, Strelich said, “pretty much gets done at least once a year.” He estimates a total of 40 to 50 productions since it first opened.
The only revisions to “Dog Logic” since SCR were made before a 1992 production in New York. Strelich said his only involvement with the new CMP production is “doing e-mail dramaturgy with Sharyn, answering questions about characters and events.”
Case has invited Strelich to attend the Sept. 20 performance of the play and to participate in the post-performance talk-back session.
Case called playwrights like Strelich and Howard Korder (whose “Search and Destroy” also originated at SCR) “rare” and said that plays like theirs, which she called “black comedies dealing with difficult and profound issues,” are hard to find.
She hopes audiences who see “Dog Logic” realize that “whatever you do has consequences, whether from the past or for generations to come. We are connected, and if we don’t recognize that pretty soon, we’re going to become as extinct as the dinosaurs.”
It’s no small irony, Case notes, that Costa Mesa Playhouse is opening its 49th season with a play that originated with SCR, which is now in its 50th season. It’s just another example of Strelich’s 1988 play, in “dog logic” fashion, coming full circle.