(This post is especially for Andrew Wing. He’s one of Ripley’s biggest fans and readers, and we feel terrible that we haven’t written in over a month. So we wanted you to know, Andrew, that we’re sorry, and we’ll try to be better in the future. Ripley would give you a big wet kiss if she could.)
As a service dog, Ripley attends the theater frequently. She has been to performances at 6th Street Playhouse, the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Raven Theater, and productions at Calistoga and Cloverdale high schools. So she’s become pretty nonchalant about human beings acting a little bit crazy.
Her first night out was at Calistoga High, and in one of the three plays, “Words, Words, Words,” the kids were three chimpanzees named Kafka, Milton and Swift. The premise is that they are in a cage, with typewriters. A scientist has a theory that if they randomly hit keys, eventually they’ll come up with “Hamlet.” Great play — but Ripley got a bit startled when the “chimpanzees” started screeching and rolling around all over the stage, throwing paper and typewriters around. What were these humans doing?
Soon, though, she came to realize that anything goes at the theater. I bring her blanket, lay it down on the floor at my feet, and she settles in for the duration of the show. Gunshots, hollering, people breaking out into song and dance, lights dazzling across the room, all became part of a regular routine. She waits patiently for the applause, then gets up, stretches, and knows it’s time either for intermission or to go home.
That is, until this last theater experience. In early March, we went to see the Raven Theater’s production of “On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning.” The story is about three women explorers in the late 1800s who head out to Terra Incognita, “lady travelers” who face all kinds of challenges and end up moving not only through space, but through time.
When we arrived at the theater, in the recently renovated space in Windsor, we discovered that the stage was set for theater in the round, meaning that the audience sits on all sides of the action. We chose a seat on the side, right on the floor of the stage. There was a space next to me with no chair, so I spread Ripley’s blanket there, thinking it gave her some protection from the main event.
When our intrepid explorers appeared, Mary (Christi Calson, a good friend), Fanny (Elizabeth Henry) and Alex (Sarah Bird Passemar), my first thought was, “Gaw! I hope Ripley doesn’t walk out onto the stage to say hi to Christi!” But no, she seemed to understand perfectly that this was theater, and greetings were for later.
It soon became clear we were in for some close encounters. The women, armed with machetes, spent a good deal of time walking in circles bushwhacking. Ripley seemed not to mind having the long rubber knives swinging down quite close to her nose. So far, so good. Then, in response to – what was it, a crocodile? the good ladies pulled out their trusty umbrellas. Standing in a circle in the center, they pumped their umbrellas open and closed, repeatedly, to scare off the beast. I placed my hand on Ripley, just to make sure. Again, she seemed remarkably relaxed, despite the proximity of the whooshing weapons.
There was one other cast member in the play, Steve Thorpe, who played a total of eight parts. You never knew what he’d show up as next. Just as all was getting rather comfortable, out came Thorpe from the back stage entrance as an abominable snowman. Simultaneously with his appearance, he launched a snowball – which sailed across the stage, and popped Ripley right in the behind. The whole audience gasped. She stood up, shook it off, turned around, and laid back down, as if to say, “Really? Snowballs?”
The snowballs were very light styrofoam, nothing that could cause harm, only startling. The actors continued without missing a beat, the yeti throwing his snowballs, Mary, Alex and Fanny getting into the fight, and we moved on to the next scene.
During intermission, people from the audience came up repeatedly to comment on the fact that Ripley had been so calm about the whole incident. They were simply amazed. Still, for Act II, we moved up one set of seats, so we weren’t quite so close to the action.
Following the show, our yeti, Thorpe, came up to apologize. Hey, it’s all in a night’s work for a service dog. Sometimes you help your human. Sometimes you meet the abominable snowman. Part of the job, Ripley seemed to say. On with the show.