In any play or film with a post-apocalyptic setting, things are going to be bad.
In Liz Duffy Adams’ “Dog Act,” they’re also funny — most of the time.
This scruffy, scrappy, uneven yet admirably inventive comedy constitutes something different for Main Street Theater. The company frequently takes risks — but not usually in this wild, funky, in-your-face mode. MST earns points for the change of pace, and especially for programming offbeat new fare in midsummer, when most of the city’s major companies are serving theatrical comfort food.
“Dog Act” finds nomadic performer Zetta Stone and companion Dog (a guy undergoing a “voluntary species demotion”) wandering what’s left of the former United States, with a vague plan of dragging their wagon all the way to China to perform for the king.
They encounter fellow vaudevillian Vera Similitude and her novelty act Jo-Jo the Bald-Faced Liar, the two teams forming a skeptical alliance as each pair plots to get the better of the other.
Coke and Bud, two threatening scavengers out of a “Mad Max” movie, pop up periodically, complicating matters for the others with their inept marauding.
What these beleaguered folks seem to enjoy most is telling tall tales, whether declaimed in performance or pondered as memories of a blurred past.
Despite a few monologues that ramble needlessly and some moments that strain after the desired strangeness, the originality and energy of “Dog Act” usually keep it diverting. The closing stretch, including a funny play-within-the-play, is one of the strongest, with a genuine surprise or two.
The most consistently enjoyable aspect is the smart yet playful use of language. Adams creates a post-apocalyptic patois both poetic and profane, as in the scavengers’ blend of high-flown Elizabethan phrases and an avalanche of profane insults worthy of David Mamet. The dialogue mingles real words with neologisms, slang (“pupster”), bits of other languages (“Que pasa?”) and familiar phrases slightly distorted (“mortality play.”) It’s as if a mix-and-match language were being cobbled together out of whatever is left.
Director Andrew Ruthven achieves a vigorous rendition that rolls with the punches, frenetic outbursts alternating with rueful reverie.
Tamara Siler is at her earth-mother best as resilient, philosophical, hardscrabble Zetta. Philip Hays makes Dog as believable a figure as anyone could, announcing approaching danger by sternly shouting “Bark! Bark!”
Celeste Roberts goes to town as ultra-pretentious Vera, reveling in her actress-y manner and la-di-da affectations. Beth Lazarous strikes the ideal contrast as short-fused Jo-Jo, an intense, snapping-turtle personality.
David Wald as alpha male Coke and Ross Bautsch as whiny underdog Bud run amusingly amok, menacing and out-of-control as Curly (of Three Stooges fame.)
Jodi Bobrovsky has designed Zetta’s wagon (which unfolds into a stage and other things) as a marvel of found-object collage.
You could take “Dog Act” as a droll parody of all those other post-apocalyptic sagas. Or maybe the play is simply saying that even after the apocalypse, the performing impulse — the show — will go on.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through July 29
Where: Main Street Theater, 2540 Times