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The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World, the inaugural production of Owl Tree Theater

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In The Death of the Oldest Dog in the World, three hours of low-grade theatrical psychoanalysis that marks the inaugural production of Owl Tree Theater, central character and human doormat Peter West confronts the real reason he's turned out to be a 37-year-old loser: An evil witch put a spell on him—one he specifically requested—when he was 8 years old.

The revelation occurs when he finds the ghost of the family dog, Patches, waiting to be his spirit guide in breaking the curse during a trip back home. Their subsequent odyssey takes man-boy and dog through a series of flashbacks and speculative fiction scenarios. (In a rare witty moment, one character moans, "Oh, Peter, is there no comic book trope you wouldn't pillage?")

His improbable companions and adversaries include Violet, a bookworm bartender, and a high school bully named Brian, who's far too conveniently now an ambush journalist for a random cable channel. Like the supervillains who are transparent stand-ins for Peter's overbearing mother and preoccupied father, these characters remain narrative devices with about as much substance as Molly Eness' cardboard set pieces.

Monologues in various scenes devolve into mini-lectures on Karl Jung, Voltaire's take on destiny and Joseph Campbell's thoughts on the hero. In their midst, Gus Allen still manages to charm us as the noble Patches, while Jeffrey Nugent dutifully plows through the thankless role of Peter and Kurt Benrud brings grace to befuddled dad Norman.

Frequently, directors compensate for a script's weaknesses—and every play has at least one. But when the director is the playwright, one less pair of eyes is on the lookout for potential blind spots in each of those crucial roles. While Jesse Lowe has demonstrated considerable drive in writing and directing this work, further training in both areas is indicated before he mounts his next show.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Tall tales and karaoke nights."

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