Written in 1984, White Biting Dog is a psychologically complex modern day classic. Canadian Playwright Judith Thompson cunningly reels us into a world of social travesty and irreconcilable emptiness. Based on the comments we heard behind us from certain ladies of a certain age, I don’t think this show is appropriate for sensitive audiences.
The gifted cast of five had no trouble gaining my interest in the character development. All of the roles are subtly surreal. They are caricatures of real people but also projections of our own fears and darkest desires.
I don’t consider myself a sensitive viewer but at times I was unsettled as we watched mother, son and lovers descend increasingly into corruption and despair. The play which deals with heavy subject matter such as incest, suicide, depression, sexual identity, death and emptiness; made extremely effective use of dark humour. Many of the script’s popular culture and current events references were updated to make the show more current.
The love-hate relationship overlaid with twisted sexual tension between mother Lomia (Fiona Reid) and son Cape (Mike Ross) was entirely real and intriguing. Despite the fact that Lomia is hedonistic, selfish and callous, Fiona Reid still manages to portray her in a way that is relatable.
Naïve, hapless Pony’s deterioration as she is drawn into a maelstrom of corruption and self-loathing by Cape is fascinating to watch. The role was well played by Michaela Washburn. My theatre companion, who was much more familiar with the play than I, felt the interpretation of the role of Pony lacked nuance. In this production, she is an innocent bystander to disturbing, amoral behaviour right up to her tragic end. In other interpretations she is an increasingly active participant whose morality has been profoundly shaken by broadening experience.
A great deal of the levity was injected by Gregory Prest who played the role of Lomia’s significantly younger, eccentric lover Pascal. While comical at times, the role was far from comedic and Prest did a fine job with humour in the midst of dramatic scenes.
Ironically, the frail, dying father, Glidden played by Joseph Ziegler, is the character we feel the least sorry for, by the end. It seems possible that he is less severely emotionally damaged than the rest of the cast. The play certainly makes it clear that dying is far from the worst thing that can happen to you.
Were it not mentioned in the program, I would not have known this was Nancy Palk’s directorial debut. The staging, set, costumes, lighting and performances were all of the highest calibre that I have come to expect of Soulpepper.
Despite this, I would still say that I liked it rather than loved it. While I was interested in the characters and story and had a deep appreciation for the literary merit of the script, for me it lacked the emotional impact that takes a show from good to spectacular. Still, the show is well worth seeing and the play is clearly well on the way to being a classic in the canon of Canadian theatre.
September 3, 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
September 6, 8:00 PM
September 7, 2:00 PM
September 8, 8:00 PM
September 12, 8:00 PM
September 14, 8:00 PM
September 15, 8:00 PM
September 20, 8:00 PM
September 22, 8:00 PM
September 23, 8:00 PM
September 24, 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM
September 27, 8:00 PM
September 30, 8:00 PM
Mike Ross & Fiona Reid, Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann