In Critiques For The Culture’s latest contribution to GayRVA, Taneasha White and Brooke Taylor review Firehouse Theatre’s production of Animal Control, a play that raises ethical questions around pet ownership.
Animal Control, written by Chandler Hubbard, made its second debut with a revised script at Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre this month. We had the opportunity to view one of their preview showings, thanks to director Joel Bassin. Animal Control follows Kim Hawkins, manager of the Carson City Pound, and discusses compassion, anger, and internal biases.
The care and consideration given to the dog in this story is unsettlingly reminiscent of the “Tommie the Dog” situation, making us wonder why the decision was made to host this particular play at this time.
For those that may have missed it, back in February a dog was tied to a fence and lit aflame in Abner Clay Park. The dog, nicknamed “Tommie” by those who rescued him, later died of his wounds. As a result of this heinous crime, the city rallied together to not only track down the person who committed the crime, but raised over $10,000 for an emergency veterinary care fund named the “Tommie Fund.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with this collective effort. However, the part that stings is that when it comes to Black and Brown folks who suffer violence or death in violent ways, especially in our city, a lot of those same people are quiet.
Our Critiques for The Culture rating is based on representation of marginalized folks, showcased with our Black fists. Our overall rating is the quality of the play overall, independent of the representation that may or may not be there, represented with stars.
Animal Control takes the audience on an emotional trip around the ethical considerations of dog ownership. It drew very sharp emotions from me as both an animal lover and a Black person, as the dog in this play is the recipient of much emotional labor by the characters. He was abused as a puppy and has trust issues that cause him to act out aggressively towards others. Even though he has lashed out before, the animal control agency the play focuses on is compassionate enough to give him chance after chance.
I was left wondering many things. What if we treated human beings this same, considerate way? What if the first reaction wasn’t to use lethal force at the slightest provocation? What would our country look like if we truly considered the mental health of folks who have been labeled as aggressive? How would our lives be changed if actual courthouse trials lasted at least as long as this play — and weren’t pushed towards plea deals? What if our underserved youth had adults who believed in them as much as this dog’s owner?
While I fully believe that animals deserve chances to be understood, why can’t Black and Brown people command that same level of respect?
Oh, to have all the love (and rights) afforded an American dog. 2 Black Fists.
From a technical standpoint, the play was great! I loved the sensory elements that were incorporated (cigarette smoke, audible sounds of barking dogs and rain, wet jackets of characters, etc.) The lighting was fantastic — aiding in the development of drama and tension through the acts of the play. 4 Stars.
Animal Control attempted to shine a light on the biases that people have, showcasing the owner of the aggressive dog as a cliche rural white man with a mullet, clad in cut off plaid and dirty blue jeans. We see that this character is actually very compassionate, and his care and fear show up in anger. The show gave an example of the complexity of anger, and how we shouldn’t assume people’s intentions and capabilities based on their appearance.
The bigger takeaway for me? White people care a whole lot about animals.
Watching people care more for animals than people who look like you is both a regular and an oppressive reality for Black and Brown people in America. Social media blows up when we get wind of another Black person killed, and I take note of who is vocal about what should happen and who is to blame. Folks who have been silent while folks are slain in the street, when Black trans women go missing and end up dead, are always too busy when asked to show up to a rally for our community. Yet those same folks were up in arms when the Tommie the Dog situation occurred. Suddenly, they had the time to post their own calls to action on social media. Suddenly, they had enough room in their budget to raise thousands of dollars in two days. Ten days after Tommie was found, Virginia politicians passed Tommie’s Law, making animal cruelty a felony in Virginia. Ten days.
Meanwhile, when Marcus-David Peters was shot and killed during a mental health episode on the highway by the Richmond Police, the advocacy group Justice and Reformation For Marcus-David Peters pushed for the Marcus Alert, which would, according to Justice And Reformation, “support mental health professionals as first responders to possible or confirmed mental health crises, rather than police officers trained to use deadly force.” It was met with silence. Peters has been gone over a year, and there has yet to be any progress made. If we don’t value the lives of animals over the lives of people of color, explain that fact to me. 1.5 Black fists.
In reference to the quality of the show overall, I was highly impressed by the details of the show. On either side of the stage, there were gates. This is where the characters that would be primary in the next act would stand right before the end of intermission, giving you an idea of the tension and feelings that would come up when the show resumed. The lighting was great, and added to the emotionality showcased by the actors on stage. It was very evident that all of the moving pieces of this show were taken into account, making it an all-encompassing experience. 4 stars.
Animal Control is currently playing at Firehouse Theatre, and will close on Saturday, July 27. For showtimes and tickets, go to animalcontrol2.bpt.me.
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Top Photo by Bill Sigafoos, courtesy Firehouse Theatre