Christine Dolen

Thinking Cap Theatre offers plenty to ponder in Sarah Kosar’s ‘hot dog’

The mission of Thinking Cap Theatre is contained in its name.

Artistic director Nicole Stodard chooses challenging plays that are unlikely to appear on other South Florida stages. The scripts are often daring in form or content, the playwrights frequently women. Intriguing theater provokes an emotional response, of course. But Stodard also wants her audiences to engage intellectually with the material.

Sarah Kosar’s hot dog is a dark comedy that clearly fits the company’s mission.

An American playwright living in London, Kosar sets hot dog in Butler, Pa., a town 35 miles outside of Pittsburgh. She creates a situation familiar to the middle-aged offspring of aging parents — Mom can no longer really care for herself, so her grown daughters have to step in — but gives that scenario a metaphoric twist. Cranky, demanding and needy, Mom seems to have partially morphed into a dog.

Maryanne (Niki Fridh) and Carol (Ann Marie Olson) call their mother (Sally Bondi) “Dog.” Dog’s behavior veers from human (she’s hooked on TV, likes her favorite hot dogs prepared in a particular way, conveniently gets sharp pains whenever she’s asked to do something she doesn’t want to) to canine (she gets “walked” sporting a collar and leash, plays with a squeaky toy and makes her displeasure known by pooping on the floor).

Living next door to Dog and therefore the go-to caregiver, Maryanne is fed up. The divorced Carol is moving back to Butler, and Maryanne is pestering her cat-crazy hubby Michael (Mark Duncan, who doesn’t have much to play except that affinity for felines) to move to Pittsburgh, where she has taken a job. Anything to get away from the whining Dog.

Under Stodard’s direction, the actors illuminate the realities and complexities of care giving, here taken to extremes in Kosar’s toxic setup. Bondi conveys the range in Dog’s behavior, making her cruel and impossible to please yet pitiable and frightened. Fridh’s Maryanne is the put-upon, dutiful daughter who has come to the end of her rope and is ready to snap. Olson’s Carol is an especially vulnerable target of her mother’s wounding nastiness.

Thinking Cap is performing in the Black Box Theatre at Davie’s Nova Southeastern University while work on its future home in Fort Lauderdale’s new Vanguard Sanctuary for the Arts is completed. There, set designer Chas Collins and projection designer Cat Del Buono suggest a too-close-for-comfort, small-town environment.

Collins and Stodard reveal character through their costumes: errand-running outfits for Maryanne, hot pink and red dresses for on-the-prowl Carol, a canine face and hairy “ears” atop an older woman’s stay-at-home clothes for Dog. The sound design, by David Hart and Stodard, contains some pointed musical gems, Hound Dog and How Much Is That Doggie in the Window included.

Kosar’s hot dog is by no means a flawless play. Though it runs just over 70 minutes, Kosar seems to be traipsing back and forth over the same metaphoric ground too many times. Except for the actor seesawing between human and canine behavior as Dog, the characters come across more as thematic constructs than fully developed people navigating a tough situation.

Even so, hot dog is an imaginative take on a situation that resonates disturbingly in our aging-averse culture.