By James Bartholomew
Not every animal lover is as dedicated as Lisa Wharton, writer and performer of “STRAYS: we all feel a little lost sometimes.” Seeing a lost dog running loose on the Los Angeles freeway, she decides to rescue the poor thing, chasing him through traffic and safely stowing him away in her car.
So begins the heartwarming story of Ms. Wharton’s journey into the animal rescue community, and her obsession with saving anyone and anything she can. Adopted twice as a child, this activist has a special affinity for the lost. The story of the stray highway hound launches a tale in which Ms. Wharton explores her own adoption and investigates what it means to be part of a family.
“STRAYS” alternates between two histories; one of the adult Ms. Wharton’s misadventures in dog fostering, and one of her childhood with her adopted mother and father, and later, her stepfather. More often than not, that split is used to good effect. Childhood stories provide context for Ms. Wharton’s decisions as a dog foster parent. When a friend convinces her to take pity on a wayward stray, she looks up at the sky and asks, “God, why am I so sensitive?” Ms. Wharton’s lifelong quest to answer her question proves both worthwhile and entertaining.
That question about her own sensitivity segues nicely into a story of Ms. Wharton’s guilty feelings over throwing out inanimate objects, and her childhood hoarding of stuffed animals. She even wheels out a treasure trove of plush toys, each jostling for real estate on her cramped child‑sized twin bed. It’s a great moment, even if the digression somewhat dilutes the overall focus of the show. Such demonstrations, much like Ms. Wharton’s tendency to narrate a story and then reenact it, may seem redundant. The projections of still images that set the scene—save for an adorable segment at the play’s finale—may also be superfluous, when Ms. Wharton does a perfectly fine job of conveying the exposition on her own.
Much of the piece does wonders to paint an earnest and charismatic portrait of its performer. Ms. Wharton’s love, not just for her own pets, but for every animal she encounters is palpable and infectious. Her storytelling—especially her narration—proves thoroughly enjoyable and forms a solid cornerstone of the play. They say that when taking in a rescue, you should expect a few personality quirks here and there. That’s definitely the case with “STRAYS,” but even some occasionally bumpy pacing and repetitive structuring can’t diminish the show’s sincerity and heart. Not fully housebroken just yet, “STRAYS” is worth taking in.
“STRAYS: We all feel a little lost sometimes.”
Written and Performed by Lisa Wharton
Oct. 25 at 7:30pm
Director & Production Designer: Lisa Nicole Lennox
Stage Manager : Amanda Reimer
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.