J.P. Hubbell, Tom Dugan and Kait Haire in Cemetery Pub
You’re driving through a classic midcentury Woodland Hills neighborhood at dusk, onto a quiet cul-de-sac. You park your car and enter through a side gate to a backyard. What do you expect to find there? A swimming pool? Barbecue? Tiki lights?
How about theater-style seating facing a set that replicates an aging New Jersey pub that’s located across from a cemetery and train tracks? How about the perfect outdoor theater experience, with music, gentle breezes and the kind of warm hospitality more associated with visiting a friend’s house?
At Dugan’s Backyard Theatre, a pandemic-spawned pop-up that’s still going strong, you do indeed enter an environment that blends the idyllic with the noir. Tom Dugan, eponymous backyard co-host (with wife Amy) is the writer and co-star of Cemetery Pub. Stage Manager Cameron Kauffman and Sound Designer Steve Shaw contribute enormously to making a backyard a professional outdoor theater.
Dugan has a storied past in solo shows. He wrote and starred in Wiesenthal and Tevye in New York. Just in the last two years, in his own backyard, he mounted Tell Him It’s Jackie and The Ghosts of Mary Todd Lincoln—the latter of which he performed himself when the actress became unavailable.
Cemetery Pub is writer Dugan’s first multi-character play, and it’s engaging and satisfying. Kait Haire is bar owner Dixie and J.P. Hubbell her long-lost cousin Danny, mob-associated muscle whose recently deceased wife was just buried across the street at St. Gertrude’s Cemetery. Dugan plays Chris, Dixie’s uncle, who has brokered a meeting to see if Danny can help save the pub.
Dixie is cynical, manipulative and somewhat vocabulary-impaired. There are some funny sequences when she reacts to Danny’s usage of words like “gumption” that are unfamiliar to her. She has inherited the pub and a tough attitude from her mother, who kept a rock salt-filled shotgun behind the bar to deal with drunks.
Dixie and Danny dance around the problem that caused Chris to solicit Danny’s help: a local thug who has been making trouble since Dixie rebuffed him. Now that her mother is gone, he’s ramped up his threats.
All of the characters are deftly drawn and acted, peeling away layers of past pains and family dysfunction to reveal their raw hearts. Haire beautifully portrays the anger and desperation of someone trying to hold onto her family legacy in the face of daunting circumstances. Hubbell presents a tough guy grappling with grief and haunted by memories. And Dugan is the guiding force that sets it all in motion and tries to keep it on track.
The ending evokes memories of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Thelma and Louise: opening the pub’s door means a step into a potentially violent but somehow inevitable future.
Cemetery Pub plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm through May 21 (no shows May 6 or 7). For tickets, which are $25, send an email to [email protected]. After purchase, you’ll be sent the street address. Bring a jacket and blanket for the cool night air
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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One thought on “Theater Review: Cemetery Pub”
Thank you so much for taking a chance, on seeing a play in someone’s backyard 🙂