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Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 5: "Isle of Dogs" review 

The absurdist play features witty dialogue, but the plot needs work

After experiencing a lifetime of American jokes, I find it refreshing whenever I encounter dark British comedy. Sunday night at Writers & Books, Spanner Theatre Company and Method Machine presented "The Isle of Dogs," an original work written and directed by Kimberly Niles. The conclusion of the play left me in need of some Orbitz, but the dirty language was not the aspect of the show that left me with a bad taste in my mouth (although those unaccustomed to British humor may have thought the language could have used some cleaning up). The plot lacked tightness and cohesion. In the program, the audience was warned to "Mind the Gap," but there were so many plot holes that needed filling that it was difficult to navigate them.

The play's premise circles around two friends both named Catherine taking a vacation on the Isle of Dogs, a touristy getaway location notorious for its lack of social rules. While there, they befriend two lucky fellows named Passington and Sweet who prove useful in satisfying their libidos while squandering away the days in drunken stupors or alternative states of mind. Since we learn Catherine Smith Pharth-Smith is a former tabloid journalist, there's lots of opportunity for mocking the public's obsession with pop culture, especially the royals. A good portion of time was spent on Princess Dianna conspiracy theories, and one character noted how Elton John "could have at least had the decency to write a new song" when she died. Much of the witty dialogue was cleverly constructed, although that did not help to glue the plot together.

The turning point at which the play's "dark" aspects were revealed could not be missed. After the quartet passed out from a bout of debauchery, all lights on stage and in the house were extinguished. At this moment, Catherine S. gave a sinister monologue divulging her darkest secrets, dramatically polarizing the tone of the play in one fell swoop. Yet the dark elements that were incorporated into the plot, however much they tried to shed light on humanity's despicable nature, required more momentum. Due to the missing increase in energy, in the final scene when each character saw truths about him- or herself in a "creepy, ugly-ass looking baby" automated machine, it was hard to empathize with them.

Although I questioned the accuracy of some of the actors' British accents and their ability to speak so articulately when "drunk," I enjoyed the bantering between them quite a bit. With some adjustments, "Isle of Dogs" has the potential to be a very interesting show.

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