There Is No Dog
Last winter, CanStage was in a real crisis. Massive lay-offs, dodgy “resignations” and an upcoming season boasting not one single Canadian play had a lot of people pretty peeved. Enter The Berkeley Street Project. Co-productions with Nightwood, Studio 180, and Necessary Angel were announced to round out the season at the company’s smaller theatre, keeping the Canadian Stage Company, well, Canadian, not to mention offering self-described “edgier” works. Up first is Nightwood with its adaptation of Helen Humphreys’ novel Wild Dogs.
Six strangers meet each day at dusk near a farm on the outskirts of a small town and call to their dogs, who have each abandoned their former masters to join a feral pack that lives in the woods. We never really know what makes the dogs leave their people, which gives the story a dreamy, almost fairytale atmosphere. At the centre of the group is Alice, a young woman who has tried a lot of different things but never quite found a place where she belonged. She is joined by Walter, an old man; Malcolm, an unstable painter who becomes infatuated with her; Jamie, an angry tweenage boy; Lily, a woman whose experience of trying to save her brother from a fire has left her brain-damaged; and Rachel, the research biologist Alice begins a torrid affair with.
Raven Dauda and Tamara Podemski as Rachel and Alice, respectively, have remarkable chemistry, and it’s exciting to see a play in which the romantic leads are two women of colour that completely manages to avoid the clichés and pitfalls of lesbian love stories; their relationship is dealt with in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way. But Taylor Trowbridge steals the show as Lily, creating a character who is complex, sympathetic, realistic and, at the play’s climax, absolutely heartbreaking. The weakness of the show is Anne Hardcastle’s script. While she gives the characters some lovely monologues, there are far too many of them for a seven person cast. It can start to be all tell and no show, which is particularly damning in the case of Rachel and Alice’s love story. Why have the characters explain to the audience the difficulties of their relationship instead of allowing them to interact with each other? Monologues can be a great way to get around dramatic scenarios that are impossible to stage, but when they stand in for perfectly stageable (and probably more interesting) scenes and conflicts, the result is often tedious and frustrating. Even so, Wild Dogs is a show that’s not afraid to experiment and try new things, even at the risk of failure. And that’s exactly the kind of shot in the arm CanStage needs right now.
Wild Dogs runs at the Berkeley Downstairs until Nov 8.
Photo by Robert Popkin.