The Offending Gesture: Theater review by David Cote
If binge streaming The Man in the High Castle hasn’t sated your hunger for speculative Third Reich kitsch, try Mac Wellman’s infinitely weirder The Offending Gesture. This sincerely surreal fable continues the experimental playwright’s lifelong theme: the inherent vice of symbolism, primarily language.
Dog Jackie (plucky Kristine Haruna Lee) has been taught by his Finnish master to give the Nazi salute upon hearing, “Heil Hitler” (true historical tidbit). The brownshirts see a photo of the stunt and, being literal-minded fascists, take umbrage. Soon, Hitler stand-in Noble Wolf (Layla Khoshnoudi, vamping like SNL’s Kate MacKinnon in a Charlie Chaplin sketch) sends goons to Finland to intimidate the nonplussed pooch. Meanwhile, Jackie crushes hard on Noble Wolf’s best friend, German shepherd Blondi (Abby Rosebrock, affecting an OMG vocal fry). Alaina Ferris scores haunting vocal interludes for “moon cats” who comment wryly on human and canine folly.
Seasoned Wellman watchers will luxuriate in the coded language games and philosophical puzzles in Meghan Finn’s very funny and well-acted production; newcomers should be dazzled. Either way, we salute this shaggy dog tale.—David Cote
Connelly Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By Mac Wellman. Directed by Meghan Finn. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
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