Review by Adam Collier
It’s funny how it goes. When a play elicits emotions in me, it’s often weak ones that are easiest to identify and amplify through words. The hardest thing sometimes is taking a deeply felt reaction and putting that into words.
Dogs Barking caused a lot of inner-turbulence for me.
The culminating action of Dogs Barking is a character named Neil pinning-down his ex-girlfriend Alex, threatening to rape her. What struck me just as powerfully though was the scene immediately following – the last scene.
Neil’s friend Spoonge returns from taking Alex to hospital (she is three-months pregnant, and the violence has caused enormous pain). Neil is on the floor, drinking, and he recollects the first night he spent with Alex after they moved in together. Neil’s arrogance is so perfectly tempered with self-pity and remorse, I felt sick.
I left the show hating my self for the sympathy I felt for Neil. I got twinges of fear as I walked through the Annex; afraid that somehow this sympathy was really a sort of empathy for Neil’s selfish nature.
Neil is an uncompromising, spiteful jackass. He destroys his relationship with Alex by sleeping with his boss. He refuses to sign transfer papers that would give Alex possession of an apartment they bought together. Neil is an uncompromising, spiteful jackass. He is also heart-broken and desperate.
I couldn’t help but feel for the guy in the final moments of the play. Neil is emotionally incapable of coming to terms with his own arrogance through language, but he is still apologetic. Showing his atonement through final inaction – fitting of such a stubborn fool – waiting for a severe beating from Alex’s boyfriend Ben.
Richard Zajdlic, the playwright, has explored to the point of profundity the intricate psychology of each character. Though this isn’t the same thing as having full-control over the characters. I found there was at least one time when the dialogue drifted into exploring a conflict extraneous to the plot. Not that, for example, a dispute Alex and her sister Vicky have about the newspaper is irrelevant – it helped my understanding of their relationship. But I wonder if the playwright’s decision to explore this dispute – really a power struggle – as far as he does, taking it all the way to resent over their mother, and as quickly as he does (over just a few minutes), before dropping it was wise.
Maybe this is just a projection of my own bias, but that sequence between Alex and Vicky was the one time I felt the acting was a bit disconnected. The way it climaxes with yelling in one another’s faces wasn’t convincing to me. Save that instance, the acting in Dogs Barking is tremendous.
I strongly recommend going to this play. Dogs Barking is a professional production of top-notch quality, and I bet it’s only a matter of time before it’s in major production in New York City or London.
– Dogs Barking is on at the Tarragon Theatre
– It is on as part of the Fringe Festival with the following performances: Saturday July 5th at 5:45 PM; Monday July 7th at 8:15 PM; Tuesday July 8th at 4:30 PM; Thursday July 10th at 7:00 PM; Sunday July 13th at 4:30 PM
– Tickets are $10 at the door and are also available through the Toronto Fringe Festival website