Libretto by Royce Vavrek, after the short story by Judy Budnitz (E)
NOTE: The hiring of a sound designer is a condition/requirement for permission.
Alexander Kasser Theatre, Montclair, NJ
Robert Woodruff, director
Conductor: Alan Pierson
Company: Beth Morrison Projects
The country has fallen into chaos as an undefined war rages on US soil. Roads are closed except for military use. There is no work. Progressively, the schools close. Food runs out. The power gets shut off. Neighbors mysteriously vanish.
Those without homes beg for food at the porches of those who do, but no one has anything to give. A family of five—two parents, two sons, and a young daughter, Lisa—do what they can to survive. They eat wild grass from the yard. The father goes hunting every day, but all the animals have fled. "They know something we don’t," he says. One day, Prince arrives.
Prince, a man in a dog suit, befriends Lisa and provides her with an escape from the isolated boredom of her life. Lisa’s mother supports this friendship. Prince is her pet, though Lisa’s father, Howard, opposes it.
Howard confronts Prince. "Stand up," he says. "You're a human being, for God's sake. Stand up like a man … I'll give you my own clothes if you'll … stand up like a man and talk to me. I know you can talk." Prince barks; Howard chases him away. Conditions continue to worsen.
It’s winter now. Dark early, and cold. The family hasn’t eaten in weeks, maybe months. "I wish I had a steak," says one brother. The other brother adds "I heard in China people eat dogs." There is silence in the room.
Howard rises, takes his rifle. "Where are you going? Howard--don't--don't--" says mother. "He's a man, Howard! A man! You can't-" she screams. "He's a dog," Howard replies. "He's an animal." Lisa tries to stop them, but she is too late. She arrives just in time to see her father and brothers descend upon Prince, snarling.
"It's only a matter of time before this riveting show is confirmed as a groundbreaking American classic."
—The New York Times (2013)
"a taut, nuanced work that clawed beneath the surface of every situation...its poetry is indelible and affecting."
"Think about it: When was the last time a new opera got under your skin the way an Edward Albee play does?"
—The New York Times (2012)
"Mr. Little deftly incorporates music theater as well as traditional operatic writing, and the score has a rhythmic pulse that reflects his background as a rock drummer."
—The Wall Street Journal (2012)
"It is difficult to think of anything with that kind of power and originality on any other opera stage in the area."
—The Star Ledger (2012)
How do you deal with your world, when madness becomes the behavioral norm?
Based on a short story by Judy Budnitz, Dog Days is a contemporary opera that investigates the psychology of a working class American family against a not-so-distant-future wartime scenario. It asks: is it madness, delusion, or human / animal instinct that guides us through severely trying times? Where exactly is the line between animal and human? At what point must we give in to our animal instincts merely to survive?
Told predominantly from the perspective of Lisa, a thirteen-year-old girl, we watch as the world slowly falls apart around her. We watch her family progressively starve, her mother give up on life, and her father struggle to fulfill his own myth of the provider. We see her brothers flee the stasis of their lives through more and more regular recreational drug use, for which they ultimately give everything for the illusion of escape.
And then we meet Prince, a man in a dog suit, begging for food. Is he mad, or the only one who can still see clearly? No one can be sure. They say that you can tall a lot about a culture by the way it treats its animals. It also bears to reason that you can tell a lot about a man by how long he can remain truly human during traumatic times.
Dog Days was premiered on September 29, 2012 in the Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, directed by Robert Woodruff and conducted by Alan Pierson. It is dedicated to Beth Morrison.
James Bobick/Marnie Breckenridge/Cherry Duke/John Kelly/Michael Marcotte/Peter Tantsits/Lauren Worsham/Newspeak/Alan Pierson
Via Records (digital release)Buy the recording from iTunes