The Found Dog Ribbon Dance
Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Echo Theater Company
Extended through March 12
Cuddles to you! Some good news. If the first-night audience at The Found Dog Ribbon Dance had been tested for the polypeptide hormone oxytocin, I suspect that a significant increase would have been found during the performance. Later, at the social event in the courtyard, re-uptake seemed to have been inhibited, too (and the cheese with bacon was delicious).
But I would caution Echo Theater to have a mid-wife on-call during the run of Dominic Finocchiario’s new play — in the event of unscheduled quick-births.
The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, now receiving its world-premiere at Echo, proves at least three things: Finocchiario is a fine comic talent. Echo Theater continues to make great strides in production of new work. And Alana Dietz is a very good director.
Ribbon Dance tells the story of a professional cuddler, Norma (the superb and lovely Amanda Saunders), her various clients (it’s a large cast, all unusually good), the progress of her relationship with Norm (an inspired Steven Strobel), and the fate of a lost dog (performed with witty restraint by Daniel Hagen).
Cuddling, as a therapeutic service, is certainly a peculiar addition to the gig economy, and as we watch Norma’s sessions proceed, we are often very near her clients’ deeply defended wounds and confused coping-behaviors. That dimension of the story, with a frequent sense of danger, is handled well by the playwright and company.
Norma, somewhat astray herself, seems to be a collector of strays. Why? That question arises slowly from the narrative. And Finocchiario unspools that principal character-mystery with the good sense of a storyteller’s delay.
Steven Strobel’s performance as Norma’s boyfriend, Norm, is a very fine comic portrait — perfectly following Finocchiario’s writing for the character, with Norm’s rapid series of disclosures and frightened qualifications. Norm is the ribbon-dancer of the play’s title — he likes to post videos of his bedroom choreography, dancing with ribbons on sticks, performed to music by Whitney Houston while wearing a Mexican-wrestler’s mask. That set-up, in itself, would be sufficient for a successful comic performance. But the heartfelt investment by Strobel in the kitsch sentiment of the music approaches the sublime.
The cast also features Eric Gutierrez, Gabriel Santorangelo, Gregory Itzin, Clarissa Thibeaux, Julie Dretzin and West Liang — a very distinguished company, indeed.
The show looks and sounds good, with design by Kirk Wilson (scenic), Jesse Baldridge (lighting), Elena Flores (costume), and Gillian Moon (sound).
Echo Theater Company, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; some Mon. performances at 8pm.; extended through March 12. (310) 307-3753, http://echotheatercompany.com. Running time: 90 minutes without intermission.