Wild Dogs – Nightwood Theatre

By Dana Lacey

It wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before. Wild Dogs is a set of monologues woven together, often competing with each other. The premise, straight from the playbill: “each evening at dusk, six people gather at the edge of the woods calling their dogs back–dogs that have turned wild.” Relationships bloom as the group battles loneliness and loss,
trying to understand why their dogs left them and just what it means to be wild.

The play is an adaption of Helen Humphreys’ novel, and fans can appreciate that all of the play’s dialogue is lifted directly from the book. The result? Not quite play, not quite book reading, Wild Dogs is simply staged poetry (“To be wild is to live by instincts, not imagination.”) It’ll make you uncomfortable in an eerie, I’m-learning-something-about-myself way.

If that makes you nervous, there’s some great humour too, (“My mother is my father’s fault.”)

The set was simple, the props sparse: the play is driven purely by words. There’s a creepy Norman Bates-ish man searching for his orange poodle, an adorable giggling grandpa guy and an angry BMX-riding 13-year-old who desperately misses his only friend, pit bull Scout (I’m not sure how old actor Stephen Joffe really is, but he made some pretty convincing teen-screech screams.)

The main character, played by stage star Tamara Podemski, has great chemistry with actress Raven Dauda, playing a scientist trying to get a handle on predictably unpredictable feelings like love. My favourite was Lily, a young-at-heart woman whose brain had been damaged trying to save her brother from a fire–“I am tugging at my mind but nothing tugs back,”–actress Taylor Trowbridge manages to make her sympathetic, hilarious and profound at the same time.

Each character speaks the staging as well as acting it, living the story while telling it. I love how the monologues sometimes overlap each other, forcing the audience to add their own layers of meaning to each scene.

I was confused for a few minutes when halfway through the production a new character walks onstage, and without interacting with the others, pulls up a chair and starts telling a seemingly unrelated story directly to the audience. I hated him right away, but I think that was the point.

His purpose in the plot is slowly revealed as violence and paranoia creep into the group, creating a suspenseful buildup that at times kept me and my buddy nervously clutching our seats in anticipation. “It was tense,” he admitted afterward, “I was a little scared. It was great.”

I loved that Wild Dogs managed to creep us out through words alone, and left me with lots of think about. One line from Lily has haunted me–“I wish I had before back…but before doesn’t want me back.”

In conclusion, even if you don’t like dogs (or maybe especially?), go see this play.

Details
Wild Dogs is showing at Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street) until November 8, 2008
– Show runs Monday to Saturday at 8pm, with a Wednesday matinee at 1:30pm, and a Saturday matinee at 2pm
– Tickets range from $25 – $42 and are available by calling (416) 368-3110 or online

Photo of Raven Dauda, Les Carlson, Steve Cumyn, Taylor Trowbridge and Tamara Podemski by Robert Popkin.

3 thoughts on “Wild Dogs – Nightwood Theatre”

  1. I loved the book by Helen Humphries that the play was based on. Sadly, for me, the play did not work theatrically at all. The stage movement of all the actors trekking endlessly on and off the stage, follow the leader fashion, was monotonous. I did not learn enough about the chaacters to truly care about any of them. The storyline, which was inventive and powerful in the book, became rather incredible, strained and even uninteresting when performed onstage. I would say read the book instead. A disappointing evening, for me at any rate.

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