The urban wonderland, of course, proves not so wonderful: A rich family takes in Wang Cai, who invites Lai Fu over to pig out on culinary delicacies, then work the calories off on a treadmill. But when the newly adopted pet wanders outside and loses his dog license, he’s thrown in prison; meanwhile, Lai Fu sits in a nearby cafe drinking cappuccino.
A later stage in the adventure finds the scrappy pals competing on, and being ruthlessly eliminated from, an “American Idol”-style TV competition called — what else? — “China’s Next Top Dog.” (The recent news that a hugely popular Chinese TV talent show called “Super Girl” has been canceled — officially for going over its prescribed time limit, though some suspect censorship — gave this scene a jot of topicality.)
Eventually declared critters non grata by the urban authorities, the mongrels hightail it back to the countryside — a twist that seems to speak of the challenges of realizing aspirations in modern China. On the other hand, a jokey sequence in which Wang Cai, suffering from appendicitis, is operated on by a doctor who charges him extra for anesthesia and stitches, might have been invented by U.S. comedians milking the health-care debate.
With its sly allusions to Viagra, Michael Jackson and Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung,” not to mention its periodic rock riffs (a guitarist and a bassist sat stage right, and the actors sometimes chipped in on guitar and drums), “Two Dogs” boasted a good deal of cross-cultural accessibility. The youthful vibe and comic flair of the actors — who exuded punk raffishness in their shorts, jackets, grubby ties and hiking boots — helped. Han in particular is one of those performers who can make the simplest movements and expressions funny: A running joke in which Wang Cai dropped to his knees and bawled for his mother was hilarious.
Playwright and director Meng built audience participation into the play: At one point the dogs, finding themselves particularly cash-strapped, requisitioned the pocketbooks of theatergoers in the front row.
It all made for rather loose-knit entertainment, but then “Two Dogs” is, well, a shaggy-dog story.
Upcoming offerings in “China: The Art of a Nation” include the Beijing People’s Art Theatre production of “Top Restaurant,” a play about a Peking-duck eatery. It will run in the Eisenhower Theater from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.
China: The Art of a Nation
Through Oct. 30 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Visit www.kennedy-center.org, or call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324.