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Astoria’s Animal Engine Theater Co.’s show goes to the dogs

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Like a lot of New Yorkers working in the theater, Carrie Brown has held numerous part-time jobs over the years, including a four-year stint as a dog walker.

And during that time she became very attuned to the canine lifestyle.

“I have spent a lot of time observing dogs,” said Brown. “And, I thought, maybe there could be a show about dogs. But it can’t just be a show about dogs. It has to have a premise.”

Brown, who along with husband Karim Muasher formed the Astoria-based Animal Engine Theater Co. in 2011, tucked the idea away and waited for inspiration to speak.

It came one night in the form of a dessert menu at the Igloo Cafe on 31st Street.

Muasher pointed out the restaurant served the Italian ice-cream treat tartufo. That got the couple thinking.

“So then, it was, what if the dogs perform Tartuffe?” said Brown. “And we thought, that is so dumb it just might work.”

With the premise in place, the troupe cooked up its latest production, “Dog Show,” which will be performed at this year’s Frigid Festival in Manhattan, Feb. 19 - March 7.

An homage to the works of playwright Georges Feydeau, “Dog Show” answers that eternal question, what do dogs do when their masters leave the house? They stage a French farce.

And like any good farce, “Dog Show” includes quick entrances, mistaken identities and love triangles. But unlike most of Feydeau’s works, Animal Engine’s show adds such canine qualities as panting, sniffing and leg humping into the mix.

For Brown, a work utilizing the rules of farce performed by actors playing dogs, makes perfect sense.

“They share a lot of characteristics with us,” said Brown.

Dogs are driven by a desire for food, are easily distracted and can be extremely playful, said Brown.

“We just take that and make it a little more absurd and crazy,” she said.

Once they settled on a premise, the troupe, which also includes performers Becca Bernard and Melinda Jean Ferraraccio, gets down to work before committing a word to paper.

“We take a premise and go into the rehearsal room and improvise,” said Brown. “About half-way through the process we have a set script.”

Brown and Muasher began work on “Dog Show” during an artist residency in Cincinnati last June. Back home in Astoria, they pushed to get the show ready for this year’s Frigid.

This will be their third appearance at the independent theater festival in three years.

During their freshman festival, Animal Engine performed “The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular!”, which earned a Frigid New York Participant Pick Award. Last year, the group staged “Petunia and Chicken,” a work inspired by author Willa Cather’s writing. It received a Frigid New York Festival Favorite Award.

“They have been very good to us,” Brown said about Frigid’s organizers. “They are very supportive of up-and-coming artists.”

Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

If you Go

“Dog Show”

When: Feb. 19 at 7:10 pm, Feb. 23 at 10:30 pm, Feb. 28 at 8:20 pm, March 4 at 7:10 pm and March 7 at 8:20 pm

Where: The Kraine Theater, 85 E. 4th St., Manhattan

Cost: $15

Website: www.horsetrade.info/frigid-festival

Posted 12:00 am, February 17, 2015
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