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In a Double Bill, the Avant-Garde Meets a Very Good Girl

But if the actor’s grasp on the character is astonishing, the character’s grasp on the audience — as is too often the case with the avant-garde — is weak. To make up for it, the playwright eventually brings out the gun you’ve been expecting all along.

In a way, a gun onstage is not unlike a dog: It rips the fabric of theatrical artifice, replacing it with its own kind of drama. A gun’s drama, though, is usually dull, with only two possible outcomes: It gets used or it doesn’t. But as “With My Own Hands” transitioned (cleverly) into “The Art of Theater” — a 30-minute monologue from 2007, in which an actor played by Fletcher muses aloud to his dog about acting — it was the dog’s drama that took on living dimension.

Not just because the script invests her with human intelligence. (“Theater is low,” the actor instructs. “Speak low. And if you bark — bark low.”) Rather, Delia, a 4-year-old rescue with a sweetheart face and very good manners, can’t help insisting on the canine kind of intelligence. Though she generally sits and listens as required, there is no suppressing her brilliant improvisational skills. Do I smell peanut butter? Let’s get some! Was that a noise in the audience? Let’s investigate! She is less the straight man in the actor’s tale than he is in hers.

Fletcher, best known to New York playgoers as Jay Gatsby in the Elevator Repair Service production of “Gatz,” speaks beautifully and never barks. Still, I didn’t find the actual text of “The Art of Theater” — again translated by Elliott and directed by Rambert — very fascinating. The actor’s thoughts about his art, and the theater types he usually works with, are unsurprising except when occasionally off-putting.

“I never liked old women,” he says. “Old women are so boring.”

But the contrast Rambert draws between this self-involved sourpuss and a good girl like Delia is a brilliant way of making you think about performance. Not just what it costs the performer — though it’s poignantly true, as he says, that “as an actor you have understood that you are a dog and that you will be abandoned.” In that sense, all people are at the mercy of masters; even the character in “With My Own Hands” is “a man trapped in a dog’s body.”

A dog is not trapped in a dog’s body, though. She is her body. She doesn’t have actorly affectations or a good side to turn to the light. She is simply happy to make her people happy; in a way, that’s her job, and Delia is very good at it. When, late in the play, Fletcher picks her up in his arms for a slow dance, she licks his face as they sway.

On a very cold day in a rather cold genre, that was finally warmth enough.

Circassia News

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