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Firehouse’s “Animal Control” explores justice and compassion through a dog dispute.

click to enlarge Donna Marie Miller, Lucretia Marie Anderson, Arik Cullen and Adam Turck star in Firehouse Theatre’s “Animal Control.”

Tom Topinka

Donna Marie Miller, Lucretia Marie Anderson, Arik Cullen and Adam Turck star in Firehouse Theatre’s “Animal Control.”

Ever notice how pets sometimes resemble their owners? It turns out there's some science behind the notion.

According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, when 45 dogs and their owners were photographed separately and paired with the photo of another dog, other people were able to match the correct dog with its owner at an above-chance rate if the dog was a purebred. Perhaps, some theorize, there's an unconscious comfort to owning animals that share your family's physical traits.

Even for those who don't resemble the animals they own, it's still common to see pets as a reflection of ourselves. It's this connection between man and beast that local actor Chandler Hubbard asks us to examine with his new play "Animal Control" at the Firehouse Theatre.

Kim (Donna Marie Miller) is in a bind. With the unexpected death of her boss, she's been thrust into running the Carson County Pound, fielding animal-control calls, dealing with an insubordinate staff and putting down the occasional dog either for space or behavioral concerns. The stress of her situation is amplified when a conflict at a dog park suddenly becomes hers to mediate.

Days earlier, a scuffle at the park led to a dog requiring medical attention, and now the stressed, no-nonsense Kim must reluctantly serve as judge. Marc (Adam Turck), a dandyish clotheshorse whose golden-doodle Winnie was injured in the altercation, wants action taken against the offending dog. Dan (Arik Cullen), the owner of a mutt named Bailey, protests, saying his dog has had a tough life and that he's doing the best he can. Like the dog he owns, Dan is an imposing presence, seemingly prone to violence and sporting a scar on his face.

While Marc and Dan's neighbor Patty (Lucretia Marie Anderson) argue that Bailey is a menace and demand justice, Kim herself has a connection to the dog -- she's the one who rescued Bailey from a dogfighting ring and saved him from being put down. His behavioral issues and overexcitability stem from the abuse he sustained earlier in life, perhaps another parallel with his owner. As the conflict wears on between Marc and Dan, the altercation flirts with becoming physical.

Against Phil Hayes realistic, run-down set that jointly serves as a break room for the pound and Kim's office, the play is a bit laborious in its exposition, with the first two acts begging to be condensed into one. Still, it comes to a riveting climax in its final act, and Hubbard's exploration of justice and compassion is a thought provoking one. At times you side with each character, and the show's rough parallels with the justice system – the scenes are titled "The Prosecution," "The Defense" and "The Verdict" – are intriguing as well.

Under Joel Bassin's direction, the cast does great work all around, but the script could use a little polish. In particular, the early squabbles between Kim and pound staffer Corrine – played by a feistily appealing Journey Entzminger – could be trimmed, and their connection to human issues of justice and mercy could be beefed up.

Overall, the show is successful in its aims, and gets at one of our biggest differences from the dogs we love: our ability for compassion and understanding of our fellow man.

"Animal Control" plays through May 12 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. For information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call 355-2001.

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