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Dogs in Space: Poor Dog Group's Space Race Play The Internationalists at South Coast Rep

The Internationalists
The Internationalists
Photo courtesy of the artists

In 2007, a ragtag company of young CalArts grads by the name of Poor Dog Group made its debut on the stage of REDCAT's New Works Festival with the messy, Dadaesque and satirically biting Hey. Hey, Man. Hey. Five fast years and three major works later, Poor Dog has emerged as a polished, professional and visionary presence on the international avant garde theater scene.

L.A. Weekly spoke to writer-director Jesse Bonnell about Poor Dog's 2009 space-race satire, The Internationalists, which the group will be restaging this weekend at South Coast Rep's Studio SCR.

When he reviewed The Internationalists in 2009, L.A. Times critic David C. Nichols described it as a "disciplined, goofy, frenetic and provocative, absurdist abstraction." Can you give audiences an idea of what they're in for?

They should expect the unexpected. ... The Internationalists was a response to a lot of the things that we had been seeing around town, a collective investigation into our society as the space program was slowly disintegrating. I think if I were an audience, I would be going to see what this young company in L.A. is about, and also prepare to engage in a conversation about our social evolution, which is going to have a heavier hand in the piece than when we originally performed it.

Who writes PDG's plays?

I typically write them. I don't consider myself a playwright; I create or develop a text and then I bring that text into rehearsal. Then through a very traditional rehearsal process, the text evolves -- things get cut, I bring in new pages, more like a stimulant. As far as the credit goes ... it really depends on the mood of the day. But typically I compile and write the text.

Poor Dog was founded in 2007. How would you describe the group's artistic development since then?

It's been really fast. I really attribute that to the theater community in Los Angeles, and to REDCAT for being the cultural hub for innovative contemporary performance in downtown L.A. The members of the company all entered CalArts at the same time [that] REDCAT opened its doors, so from the very beginning we were inundated with ... art that really accelerated our interest in wanting to contribute to the international landscape.

Poor Dog alpha Jesse Bonnell
Poor Dog alpha Jesse Bonnell
Courtesy Jesse Bonnell

The group's newest work, Dionysia Dionysia, was workshopped at Getty Villa last year. Will it finally get a premiere this year?

I can't give you specific dates or anything, but what's really cool about the Getty, and what's really special about Norm Frisch at the Getty, is that he really invests in the artists that he wants to work with. And so he's really taking steps forward in terms of asking the Getty, "What's the Getty's responsibility after an artist leaves their campus?"

How difficult is it to do avant-garde theater in Los Angeles and hold Poor Dog Group together as a working company?

I think that Los Angeles is poised to become one of the most influential contemporary performance hubs in the United States, with institutions such as REDCAT, the Hammer, the Kirk Douglas, the Getty and, of course, Studio SCR presenting avant-garde performance. [But] there are only a few of them, and there's a lot of people making work. And so it becomes very competitive. ... You just have to focus on the work, otherwise you get into pandering to the powers of the world rather than [pursuing] your own convictions and honest, truthful art.

The Internationalists plays at South Coast Rep, Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., March 2-4. (714) 708-5555, scr.org.

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