University of Pittsburgh Stages' production of the Elizabethan-era The Dog in the Manger ably draws on its resources and minimizes the shortcomings inherent in undergraduate theater. The 1618 comedy by Félix Lope de Vega (a.k.a. "Spain's Shakespeare," though much more prolific) requires a large cast, multiple scenes and lots of energy.
Translated and adapted (probably very freely) from de Vega's El perro del Hortelano by David Johnston for London's Shakespeare Theatre Co.'s 2009 season, Dog in the Manger overflows with delicious puns and spot-on hilarity. Director Dennis Schebetta takes this serio-comic look at the restrictions of class structure and plays it for pure farce — with plenty of physical humor. Let's give a hand to voice and movement coach Kimberly Griffin, choreographer Cassidy Davis and fight choreographer Diego Vilada.
The Brits underwrite high-quality professional companies to mount these huge productions. On these shores, university theater departments are more able than Equity houses to provide a large cast. Alas, most roles of 17th-century plays are for men. Historically, Pitt has jumped that hurdle by dressing female students in drag for various minor male characters. Schebetta goes further, casting the talented Daria Sullivan as the key rapscallion and audacious dude servant to Manger's hero. I envied as well as enjoyed her romp as Tristan.
This is not to knock the leading lady, Alexa Moore, as the strong-willed and utterly gorgeous Diana, an aristocrat struggling with honor and her disreputable attraction for (gasp!) a mere commoner (shock!). And he's her servant (scandal!). As the target/victim of the countess' "affections," José Pérez IV blends near-acrobatic physicality with a realistic and affecting portrayal of Theodoro's confusion and succumber.
Visually, think frothy eye-pleasure, not a rigid period look. Cully Long's set design is like a watercolor that suggests the grandeur of palaces or the serenity of a church. Karen Gilmer's sumptuous costumes go beyond the spectrum with day-glo colors. I loved how the visual clash of the pastel ensemble of unsuitable suitor Ricardo (Ben McClymont) with the vibrant colors of Diana's gown underlined her rejection.