Iron Age Theatre has been producing quality theater with a distinct edge, including many new plays, for 27 incredible years. Their most recent work — part of their effort to establish an audience and home base in Center City — is an American premiere of an acclaimed Australian drama, Dogfall by Caleb Lewis.
Like many Iron Age choices, Dogfall is gritty and ambitious, presented without compromise. The Power Plant, an irregular basement space behind the Painted Bride that's hosted many a Fringe show, works well for John Doyle's lean production. Sound designer Ben Levan uses the echoes of the large, bleak open space and cement-wall echoes that accentuate the cast's voices and sound designer Ben Levan's many battle effects. War is hell
Dogfall illustrates combat over the past century from the grunts' point of view. Adam Altman plays infantryman Will and Luke Moyer is medic Jack, first in the trenches of the Somme during World War I, and eventually in Guantanamo Bay today. They slide from scene to scene, period to period with little outward change: it's the same conversation, often about survival's unglamorous details like eating, sleeping, defecating, and waiting waiting waiting, whether they're on the "good" side or not. Their awareness of this century-long journey is unclear; Jack's "Who are we fighting?" could be a time travel question, or just a pawn's view of war.
"War is a lot like love," Will observes. Jack replies, "It always finds a way."
Their contentious yet codependent relationship, punctuated by moments of desperation as bombs fall, guns fire, and smoke wafts across the stage, is complicated by two events. Not only ordinance drops from the sky, but bodies: dogs and cats first, "like fruit falling from trees," but later other animals and even humans. We never see this, but the men's reactions increase the play's Twilight Zone eeriness.
An unconventional addition
Second, they're joined by a young man from the other side — whatever it is — in each scenario, and this prisoner joins their cross-era trek. Alousha (Jenna Kuerzi), a wounded and rattled boy forced to serve, complicates Will and Jack's friendship, testing their assumptions about what they can and should do to win the war. The unconventional casting works: like Altman and Moyer, Kuerzi is ferociously committed, and her gender raises no doubts or distracting questions.
Though the playing area has the basement's cement-surrounded vast hollowness, audience and actors are closely connected, especially in the play's ugly and perfect ending.
Iron Age lost their Norristown home base after a long residency, and hopes to establish a new home for their distinctively styled efforts. They certainly deserve it, as Dogfall shows.
What, When, Where
Dogfall by Caleb Lewis, directed by John Doyle, produced by Iron Age Theatre. Through February 21 at the Power Plant, 230 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia. ironagetheatre.org.