Playwright Margot Lasher removes an envelope of provolone cheese from her purse. Her 7-year-old Goldendoodle, Shiro, grabs for a slice. But he has competition. David Klein, on his hands and knees, grabs it first. He and Shiro tussle briefly before Klein curls up for a nap on the floor of the Flynn’s Hoehl Studio Lab.
This exercise helps both real and pretend dogs get into character for their roles in Lasher’s new play, Other Minds. The piece is a beneficiary of the Flynn Center’s twice-yearly N.A.S.A. (New Art Space Assistance) Grant, which provides development space to theatrical productions six hours a week for 10 weeks. In exchange, Lasher shares her progress on the FlynnBlog. A staging at the FlynnSpace on August 9 will offer the public a peek at the work in progress.
Lasher, who gives her age as “old,” is a retired licensed psychologist and author who lives in Marshfield. Her most recent book, Dog: Pure Awareness, presents her thesis that “the reason people get so close to their dogs is the same beautiful flow of attunement” shared by a mother and her infant. Though Lasher’s chosen school of relational psychology has done “very solid research” on human relations, she believes her book is the first to tackle the same principles as they apply between species.
Other Minds seeks to embody Lasher’s theories in an even more approachable way. The play is based on the relationship between Human, played by Naomi Flanders, and her Dog, whose thoughts she can hear, played by Klein.
Both leads have had additional duties during the show’s rehearsal schedule. Flanders, a member of the Monteverdi Music School voice faculty, arrives at rehearsal exhausted, she says, after spending the day running her children’s Shakespeare camp. A production of The Pirates of Penzance she directed for her own company, Echo Valley Community Arts, just wrapped. Klein is starring in Unadilla Theatre’s A Little Hotel on the Side.
Klein, who also lives in Marshfield, was so taken with Lasher’s work that he insisted on making time in his busy schedule. And perhaps that’s no surprise; the fiftyish actor is also an artist and the creator of “Beanie the Singing Dog,” a character based on his late German shepherd. Via T-shirts, sculptures and an album, Beanie represents a universal appeal for peace. Klein’s current pooch, Charlie, is not a performer, but he accompanies his “dad” to rehearsals, where he serves as “Shiro’s therapist.” Charlie seems unaware he’s not featured in the actual show; he moves to lick Flanders’ face while Klein thrusts his own face into her side, yelping his dialogue in a high-pitched voice.
The production is a family affair. Lasher’s son, Soren Pfeffer, plays an attack dog in the show. Pfeffer arrives at rehearsal with his two teenage daughters, who bring food for the actors. Their mother, Irene Facciolo, is the play’s director.
Lasher spent her twenties and thirties in the New York theater scene and was one of the founders of the all-female Painted Woman Ritual Theater. However, as she puts it, “I had been out of theater for 30 years. I felt like I needed somebody to help.” For Other Minds, Lasher focuses her directorial energies on the canine choreography, though she credits Klein with “an artist’s intuitive sense of movement.”
Over the course of rehearsals, Lasher says, she’s come to realize that directing is “like riding a bike” — you don’t forget how — and she looks forward to more theatrical opportunities. She credits the Flynn with enabling her reentry.
“The Flynn has been wonderful to me,” Lasher enthuses. “It’s a very exciting place creatively.” Shiro nudges Lasher’s hand toward his head in apparent agreement.
Other Minds, Sunday, August 9, at 7 p.m. in FlynnSpace, Burlington. $5. Click here for tickets.