They say every dog has its day, and if they’re really lucky, it happens onstage.
In Center Stage Conservatory’s new play, man’s most faithful companion becomes more than just a family pet in “Dog’s Best Friend,” opening Thursday, Dec. 8. The world-premiere production from Modesto playwright Sam “I Am” Mellor tells the story of a lonely teenage girl whose longtime family dog turns into a human best friend.
Mellor, who studied theater at Modesto Junior College, has staged several short works in the region in the past. He has also acted with Center Stage and Sankofa Theatre Company locally. But “Dog’s Best Friend” will be his first staged full-length production. The play started as a short piece he wrote while at MJC in 2008. He has worked to turn it into a longer play since.
The show is also part of Center Stage Conservatory’s local playwright/director series. In October, the community theater company produced “31 Pine Street” by Patterson native Derek Botelho.
“Dog’s Best Friend” tackles issues such as bullying and familial tension with humor and heart. A teenage girl named Hannah Monroe (played by Kelly Stank) makes a wish on her 15th birthday, which turns her family’s 17-year-old border collie Lucky into a human 17-year-old boy named Larry Luck (played by Jesse Garcia).
Mellor, who also directs the play, said the concept went through some changes along the way. But the sentiment remains the same.
“Originally it was supposed to be about a boy and his cat, and what would happen if his cat became human,” said the 31-year-old playwright. “Eventually I thought cats have kind of an attitude problem, and it would be a lot funnier if it was a dog. So I changed boy to a girl, too. I wanted to focus on family, what could a dog do for this girl. He becomes human to be the greatest, most loyal friend the girl’s ever had.”
Rounding out the cast are Juniper Sprague and Brookelynn Morris as twins April and May, who bully their younger sister Hannah. Cayla Luiz and Shane Meyers play Hannah’s parents May and James, and Hana Franco plays Lucky in dog form.
Mellor is dedicating the production to the late Linda Johnson, a former MJC instructor and area actress, who died last year. She was the one who originally encouraged him to expand the play to full-length.
“I hope people come away (from the show) just feeling good and knowing that their emotions are OK. It’s OK to cry, laugh, feel. The show I have written is based on all the emotions you can have. I want people to feel it, watch it and resonate with it,” he said. “Also go home and hug their pets or call up their sibling or parent or tell them ‘I love you.’ ”
Dog’s Best Friend
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8; shows 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 18
Where: Center Stage Conservatory, Lower Level Studio, 948 11th St., Modesto
Tickets: $15 general, $10 student, $5 children