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Urbanite Theatre's 'Westminster' asks: 'Whose dog is it anyway?'

The biting absurdist satire questions the limits of personal responsibility.

"Westminster" runs through April 28 at Urbanite Theatre.
"Westminster" runs through April 28 at Urbanite Theatre.
Image courtesy of Sorcha Augustine
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Our species is plagued with problems big and small. These include: War, famine, pestilence, annoying relatives, unsolved murders, the Middle East conflict, widows, orphans, refugees, job-stealing robots and restrictive HOAs. 

For all these problems, humanity has one default solution. A five-word sentence sums it up: “It’s not my problem.” In Brenda Withers’ “Westminster,” the problem is a dog. Her play (a winner of the 2023 Urbanite Modern Works Festival) is now premiering at Urbanite Theatre.

Pia (Deyki Rongé) and Krys (Alex Pelletier) are old college pals. Pia (self-actualized and self-assured) has found personal success. She’s also found a successful husband — namely Tim (Jonathan Fielding). 

Krys has found neither. She has found a sketchy, companion named Beau (Gregg Weiner). He’s a pseudo-Libertarian who makes very careful choices. (He believes in freedom for himself and obligation for others.) 

Krys and Beau have also found a dog — a problem dog. They take this pooch with them, drive off and give the upscale couple a surprise visit. After that, they give them a surprise gift — the unseen, unnamed rescue dog.

As the play opens, Pia and Tim watch him through the window. The pooch is running around in yard and barking like mad. (You never see him, but constantly hear him.) Socially, the yuppie couple should say, “Gee, you got us a dog. How sweet! Thanks!” 

But they suspect the mutt might have a bit of the old pit bull in his family tree. The struggling couple deny it. Then add there’s nothing wrong with pit bulls. (What do you have against pit bulls?) The conversation ping-pongs back and forth. It emerges that Beau and Krys plan to drive off and leave the poor dog behind. They’re giving Tim and Pia this gift whether they like it or not.

Urbanite Artistic Director Summer Dawn Wallace directs Withers’ paranoid parable with a straight face. It’s a bizarre situation. But she never elbows you in the ribs. Isn’t this weird? Isn’t this wacky? Wallace simply brings the madness to a slow boil. And that’s perfect for this play’s recipe.

Metaphorically, the actors are the frogs in the slowly boiling pot that don’t notice until it’s too late. Fielding’s Tim is an eternal optimist. He always looks on the bright side of life — and has never glimpsed its dark side until now. Fielding shines in his had-it-up-to-here monologue. (Bravo!)

Rongé’s Pia is sitting pretty. She was born on third base and thinks she hit a triple. The system worked for her – why should she question it?

Pelletier’s Krys is a bleeding-heart do-gooder. She solves the problems of others to distract herself from her own. In Weiner’s portrayal, Krys’ partner Beau is a performative tough guy. You figure his character acts like a badass to cover up self-doubts and insecurities. (The play also hints that Beau takes out his frustrations on Krys with physical and verbal abuse.)

Jeffrey Weber did great work on Tim and Pia’s Ikea-infused, yuppie love nest. Alison Gensmer’s costumes neatly peg the social class and self-images of the play’s characters. 

Kudos to Ethan Vail for his surreal sound design. (I’m wondering if Vail did the voice-acting for the dog barks a la Frank Welker.) Alex Pinchin’s lighting starts us off in a clean, well-lit place — until the thunder rolls and the lighting turns to lightning.

And all the while, the barking doesn’t stop.

Each couple says the dog isn’t their problem. Both have very good reasons, thanks to very good belief systems. Tim and Pia made the right choices in life. Their success isn’t a blank check for dogs or a human in need. 

Krys and Beau believe that life gave them a raw deal — and their yuppie friends are cashing in on their privilege and good luck. The low-rent couple lacks the resources to help the dog. It’s only right that the upscale couple should.

Meanwhile, the dog keeps barking outside.

The couples’ debate goes round-and-round on these issues. It’s all too familiar — and deftly avoids political pigeonholes of Left and Right. It’s hilarious dialogue — and would work nicely in an episode of a sitcom like “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” At least at first.

“Westminster” starts out in a fairly believable comic situation with a weird twist. Then it just gets weirder and weirder and weirder. And the problem just keeps growing.

And that darn dog still keeps barking.

The unseen dog begins as a mutt who needs a home. A small problem. But manageable. But nobody wants to feed it, water it,or give it a home. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the problem dog. As a result, the problem grows. And just gets bigger and bigger. As do the laughs.

This is a very funny play. But Withers slyly pulls an artistic bait-and-switch. Humor is close to horror. When you laugh, you drop your guard. You’re not ready for the horror when it hits you.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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