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Next Stage Repertory presents 'Dog Logic'

"Dog Logic," playwright Thomas Strelich's rambling, dark comedy, has its keen moments in Next Stage Repertory Company's production.

Hertel Daggett — a junk heap-dwelling recluse who has inherited 40 run-down acres of pet cemetery — tries to avoid an inevitable plan by city developers to purchase the land and build a shopping mall. Hertel — though perhaps slightly schizophrenic — fights to retain the heritage of the pets buried at his Pet Heaven.

"He lives behind his deceased father's house in a shelter built from old washing machines, TVs and what not," says Next Stage director Doug Warner. "He operates on a different wavelength, and we have suspicions he might be schizophrenic because he hears voices, has an acute sense of smell and other characteristics associated with the mental disorder."

When Hertel learns of the business development — he's never even read his own mail — it's through a slick wanna-be entrepreneur Dale, who wants to get his hands on a slice of the pie. Soon after, Hertel's estranged mother, Anita, and his ex-wife, Kaye, arrive seeking their shares of his father's estate.

"All of them are trying to talk him into selling, but Hertel feels differently," Warner says. "He feels a connection to the pets in the cemetery, along with connections to animals that go as far back as dinosaurs. He sets out to explain how once we were all connected, but something has happened to change all of that. The play is rich with metaphor about soul, ancestry and history."

Guided by his inner voices, ancient Egyptians and the souls of the buried pets, Hertel ultimately comes up with an extraordinary plan that might beat the odds.

"Dog Logic" plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Jan. 7-8, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

"The drama is so far-fetched that there's a lot of opportunity for comedy," Warner says. "Somehow Hertel endears himself to us. The audience will buy into his logic, and into his desire to prevent the land development. There's something about the antihero, the dark hero, in American society that moves us to be secretly in his or her corner. Some of us question the integrity and motives of developers and Realtors. We want to see how the story plays out."

Hertel Dagget is played by Justin Briggs in the Next Stage production. Briggs played inmate Scanlon in the Next Stage's 2014 production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"I actually played Hertel many years ago at Mendocino Theatre Company," Warner says. "I love the character, and Justin is perfect for the role."

Mark Ropers, who played inmate Harding in Next Stage's "Cuckoo's Nest," plays Dale, the wannabe who is actually a janitor who bought a suit, took some "How to Use Other People's Money" courses and wants to represent Hertel's family for a share of the profits, Warner says.

Presila Quinby plays Kaye, who is a reasonable person and still cares for Hertel, though she coaxes him to accept the developers' offer. Hertel's mother, played by Gwen Overland, is a savvy businesswoman and entrepreneur in her own right. She has a field day with the incompetent Dale.

"Gwen plays her character smart and funny," Warner says. "She shifts into comedy throughout the play. This is one of those plays without lines for laughs. It's more about the interaction between the characters."

Warner says he's a fan of modern, dark and quirky comedy based on drama.

"I selected this play for Next Stage because it's edgy, especially since the last two plays we produced were traditional. 'Bus Stop' and 'Cuckoo's Nest' are traditional American dramas.

Set and sound design are by Warner, and lighting design is by Brad Nelson.

A collector of old and antique objects himself, Warner will use pieces from his collection to create the set for "Dog Logic."

"I don't have any old appliances or TVs in my collection, but I do have cigar boxes full of old guitar picks, cigar bands, beads, old patches and you name it," he says. "Tin buckles, brass buckles, Dominoes, things that people have replaced. It's stuff that I've collected over the years. Hertel is dear to my heart because he loves old things and broken things that he tries to repair."

Justin Briggs, left, Gwen Overland, Pricila Quinby and Mark Ropers star in Next Stage Repertory Company's production of 'Dog Logic.' Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta