Manbites Dog Theater celebrates 24 years in Durham

By Clinton Centry
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

A man biting a dog makes for an intriguing scene in a somewhat inhumane sense. It is an extraordinary sight, of course, and newsworthy at best. The act piques your interest and captivates your mind, while sending you on a mental trip.

Dana Marks, left, blonde; Annie Zipper, glasses; Jeffrey Moore, standing and Kashif Powell, sitting. Puzzled, the grad students try to figure out how the mouse got into the hydrochloric acid, or who put the mouse in the acid. Nightworks is currently playing at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham. (Photo by Alan Dehmer)

Manbites Dog Theater Company is unique in this same aspect, showcasing blunt, cutting-edge artistry within the Durham area for nearly 25 years.

Shortly after its establishment in 1987, Manbites’ most challenging task was in acquiring a permanent venue in which to host its productions. The theater group found itself relocating between various rental properties, from former shoe stores to empty printing companies, which offered limited space for shows and costume changes.

At that time, downtown Durham was a pretty desolate scene due to a number of closed businesses, but this provided Manbites an opportunity to secure a permanent residence. Along with donations from its loyal theatre patrons, and a loan from Self-Help Credit Union, Manbites purchased a space downtown, across from the original Durham Bulls ballpark.

The location, at the corner of Foster and Geer streets, is where the theater company currently resides and has been conducting shows since 1998. Upon entering the lobby, one cannot help but notice the wall of framed photography of Alan Dehmer, taken from various plays performed throughout the years. The lobby also has a minibar for theatergoers to purchase beer to compliment their Manbites experience.

Despite unsuccessful early attempts to secure a location, Manbites’ focus has always been originality, as seen in its title.

“We wanted a name that would make us stand out when compared to the larger theater companies in Atlanta, D.C. and New York,” says Managing Director Edward Hunt.

Wall of photography taken of various Manbites Dog plays throughout the years. (Photo by Alan Dehmer)

Manbites thrives on the talents of up-and-coming playwrights and directors while delivering cutting-edge plays that challenge social issues and opinions. Its first season consisted of three plays, one of which was “The Normal Heart,” by Larry Kramer. It centered on the rise of HIV and AIDS in New York City between 1981 and 1984. The production was staged during a time when the topic was considered controversial.

Ironically, it was Manbites’ adaption of another Kramer play, “Reports from the Holocaust,” that captured the attention of political activist Joseph Papp, who was popular on the New York theater circuit. Manbites performed the play in New York, obtaining much deserved recognition as one of the premiere theater groups on the east coast.

Manbites Dog Theater, currently in its twenty-fourth season, still maintains its standards of originality. “Nightwork,” is one of its current productions by playwright Monica Byrne and Associate Artistic Director Jay O’Berski.

“I have been with the company18 years, and directed eight plays,” says O’Berski.

“Nightwork” is his latest effort.  The piece is an edgy, humorous and sometimes profane depiction of five high-strung grad students working together over the course of one very eventful night.  It’s a vulgar and twisted romp, but so much of everything one can come to expect from Manbites.  The play is running now through February 12th.  Tickets are $17 Fri-Sun, $12 Wed/Thurs and $5 for students with school i.d., with discounts available for seniors and active duty military as well.  Purchase tickets online and view additional box office information and show times at  Come out, enjoy a show and take the Manbites Dog Theater experience.  It’s well worth it.