We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

During the second act of Judith Thompson’s White Biting Dog, a character gets conked on the head and turns gay, in an episode that’s unfortunately representative of the logic in this noisy pinball machine of a play. Twenty-six-year-old attorney Cape (Jon Townson), suicidal following a protracted nervous breakdown, is stopped from drowning himself by the voice of a white dog telling him that if he can save his father’s life, he’ll save himself. A chance meeting with Pony (Tara Giordano), an ex-ambulance attendant who, conveniently, can channel the white dog, clarifies things: The father, Glidden (Michael John Casey), will be cured if Cape can effect a reconciliation between him and his erstwhile wife, Lomia (Lindsay Allen). Before Cape even has time to worry about how to accomplish this feat, Lomia and her boy toy, Pascal (Jason Lemire), are delivered, conveniently, to Glidden’s house, courtesy of a fire in their apartment building. If the tale is wacky, the players throw themselves into it with rabid enthusiasm, with Townson, especially, keeping it cranked up to 11 until the second act, which is a little more modulated. Allen’s Lomia is a libertine who laughs in her son’s face when he tries to guilt her about letting the family down. Giordano is vivacious as Pony, who drives the action with her enthusiasm for the white dog’s mission one moment, then inexplicably loses her will to live, saying, “I’d give my eyeteeth to be in the war—at least then I’d know what I’m supposed to do.” Dying Glidden, the most fully realized character, has a uniquely twisted optimism: “Expect bloody nightmares, and a regular bad dream isn’t so bad.” Thompson’s humor is black and earthy, and along the way, all the characters earn their share of laughs. (Too bad there’s also unintended comedy, in their preternatural Canadian accents, which out-McKenzie Bob and Doug.) Project Y’s production is energetic and technically sound. Sara Nelson and Drew Harmon’s clever set design uses two scrims to suggest upstairs rooms in Glidden’s downscale home. Like the set, director Michole Biancosino’s blocking is both balanced and symmetrical, using all the available space to make that set feel genuinely lived-in. However, though Thompson succeeds in creating memorable characters, she fails to invest the plot with sufficient tension to propel them forward. Sure, all the couples get rearranged properly, and there’s some comic dying and dog-eating before it’s over, but when the plot relies on a gayus ex machina, the drama is reduced to sketch comedy.—Janet Hopf