Review: The Dog and the Angel (Theatre Columbus)

dogandtheangel

A Christmas party gone awry lights up Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works in Theatre Columbus’ The Dog and the Angel

What exactly is the point of Christmas when your yearly party turns into a disaster, you find out the family dog destroyed your heirloom tree-topper angel, and your husband has never heard of glue? Theatre Columbus’s The Dog and the Angel by Martha Ross takes its audience through an evening of emotional chaos in the site-specific location of Evergreen Brick Works.

Rozel (Jennifer Villaverde) discovers her husband Barker (Courtenay Stevens) disposed of her family’s angel after it gets torn up by the dog. She goes on a quest to retrieve the tree-topper from the dump. Meanwhile her daughter tries to take the ailing dog to the veterinarian. Rozel’s parents Sampson (Paul Rainville) and Claire (Leah Cherniak) follow along in an attempt to help.

Christmas plays are often haunted by the limitations of the season and The Dog and the Angel is no different. As my guest pointed out, it hit all the feel-good components often required for this time of year including the “real meaning of Christmas” with mandatory declarations of love, demonstrations of family devotion, and a happy ending.

The problem in a play geared towards the Christmas spirit is that it risks falling into mediocrity. I thought The Dog and the Angel offered some painfully contrived events to serve an already weak narrative. Ross’s work is somewhat soulless, easily ticking off the list of seasonal clichés.

Luckily, the cast makes less than likeable characters much more fun. Villaverde makes the rigid Rozel vibrate with energy. As the character becomes more and more frustrated, Villaverde lets her lines land with the delightful cruelty of someone who is always right until she isn’t anymore.

As Isabel, Wang has one of the best monologues of the evening as she laments the “worst Christmas ever” with the hilarious extreme reaction of every teenager everywhere. She is easily the most sympathetic character, but Wang never lets her descend into a teenaged cliché. She is fun because she is just young enough to want a Christmas miracle but old enough to understand that her dog’s health is deteriorating.

Meanwhile, Rainville’s Sampson has fun as a man obsessed with King Lear. As he tries to turn every moment into an excerpt from Shakespeare, Rainville inspires a familiar exasperation in his fellow actors.

With the strength of the cast it’s unfortunate that the limits created by the story leave much to be desired. My guest thought the actors served their purpose but when the plot is as thin it is hard to overlook the fact that a stronger script would have really given these performers more room to show their stuff.

As for the location, the Evergreen Brick Works offers a unique experience. Large, mostly empty, with various structures looming in the dark, it gives an extra dimension to the actors as they seem to separate and lose themselves among the echoing corridors. It’s a treat to wander along, waiting for the next scene to begin, occasionally encountering the resident Squirrel (Michael Rinaldi) who good-naturedly hassles the audience.

I think The Dog and the Angel is an experience play. Despite my dislike of the writing, it is hard not to admire the actors’ resolve, bringing their limited characters into vibrant life. In the end, however, a happy ending needs more than the Christmas spirit.

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Photo of Courtenay Stevens, Connie Wang, Jennifer Villaverde, Leah Cherniak, Paul Rainville, and Michael Rinaldi courtesy Jacqui Jensen-Roy

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