'Far From the Zoo' offers good-natured laughs for a cause

'Far From the Zoo' offers good-natured laughs for a cause

Dori Appel's "Far From the Zoo" bears witness to the huge little piece of our hearts owned by our pets. The award-winning Ashland playwright's new collection of comic vignettes involves furry or feathered creatures and their relationships with people.

The production, in which Appel and the other participants are donating their work, is scheduled for nine performances in Medford, Grants Pass and Ashland in the coming weeks. Proceeds will benefit the Southern Oregon Humane Society, Friends of the Animal Shelter, Committed Alliance to Strays, the Rogue Valley Humane Society and Shelter Friends.

"Far From the Zoo" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 11-12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Tickets cost $20, $15 for students, and can be purchased online at or at the door.

With Appel's eye for the telling detail, and direction by Tamara Marston, there's something here for just about anybody who's ever cared about a dog or a cat. Consider Tom (Joe Caron), whose girlfriend not only moved out on him but left her dog, Tallulah, behind.

In "Not My Dog," which is essentially a monologue because Tallulah (played by an irresistible cutout created by dogophile artist Mari Gayatri Stein) doesn't talk back, Tom spends almost the entire skit listing the reasons he can't keep a dog. But there's a twist that many will recognize.

Then there's "Walking the Dog at Night," in which a woman (Ronda Bagley) goes through a gamut of emotions during a seemingly endless wait on a dark city street for her finicky dog to do its business. Again, there's a twist.

On the other hand, you don't have to believe that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or even know what the heck that means, to laugh at "Monkeyshines." Raised with a chimpanzee "brother" by his scientist parents as an experiment, Billy (Cory Davison) has flashbacks caused by the stress of meeting the parents of his girlfriend, Eppie (Jacqueline Sundin). Hey, grooming for lice you might get by with, but watch the erotic acting out!

"Far From the Zoo" sometimes veers into gentle social commentary, as when middle-aged guys Bert (David Dials) and Harvey (Joe Caron) debate the pros and cons of knitting while watching football on TV. With cat fur.

Did you know Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and Laurence Fishburne were avid knitters? No? Do you know what percent of your wife's hair is permissible to use in a cat fur scarf? It's all here.

In "Feathered Friends," Dolly (Brandy Carson) shares with us her disappointment in the "mute parrots" she's accumulated over time. The birds are invisible to us, their behaviors conveyed to us by Carson's interactions with them and clever, funny parrot sound effects.

But not all the animals in these skits are pets. In "The Last Dodo and The Last Woolly Mammoth," we're invited to ponder the mechanisms of extinction. Dodo (Carson) and Woolly (Bagley) are in the animal queue at Noah's ark. Step, stop, step, stop, step stop ... Eventually they're confronted by Noah's nameless wife, a noodge and stickler for the "two by two" rule.

One of the funniest bits is "Catch of the Day," in which Sally's (Bagley) and Stan's (Dials) Siamese cat interrupts a romantic evening involving a salmon dinner by getting its head stuck in the garbage disposal.

Another funny bit is "neuticles, a cosmetic enhancement for male dogs." In "Junk Yard Dog," Carson, wearing an old baseball cap as Addie the junk lady, spins the almost Twain-like tale of a dog so big and fearsome it's the stuff of legend.

There's no doubt "Far From the Zoo" will make people laugh. Appel clearly hopes it will also spotlight the plight of homeless animals and the many volunteers who are doing good work with them.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at

Correction: Dori Appel's name has been corrected in this version.

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