Theater Review- My DogPosted February 6th, 2015 by Sean Williams
The conceit of this piece may be tough at first, but if you’re willing to go along for the ride we believe it’s ultimately worth the investment.
This piece is done almost totally without dialogue – more on that in a moment – so technically it should be considered more of a ballet and a study of movement than anything else.
The dog, “Hildy”, remains motionless for what seems to be an interminable amount of time. At first, she seems to be a study in chocolate (a “chocolate lab”, if you will) but the longer you watch her, the more she looks like a rolling expanse of deeply fertile ground. Almost like Hills and the audience may be moved to consider her name as an initial clue about what the piece means.
Named after Hildegard Von Bingen, a mystic and polymath of twelfth century Germany, you might at first believe you’re experiencing something both disciplined and expansive – a deep and constant search for knowledge both wordly and supernatural. But then it dawns on you – her name was given to her by her “Owners”. Is it not actually an example of both tone-deaf hubris and pretension? Does it not lessen both The Saint and The Dog to share this name?
As soon as we begin to question these things, the play springs into action. A sound, unheard by the audience, alerts the dog that something is happening outside the theater. And the shift is stunning. This rolling mass of pure relaxation becomes a bristling, guttural spring-coil of alarm. Without moving a muscle, every audience member’s heart begins to race.
It’s astonishing. We know there’s something out there, something we can’t see or hear, something that she is both terrified of and bravely stands in opposition to. And it occurs to each of us – this has been happening to us, to the audience, for some thirty thousand years. There has been one wolf who sits by the fire and, for some reason, warns us that other wolves are approaching and warns them not to come any closer.
When it occurs to us that it’s a neighbor receiving delivery Shwarmania, (and we realize it long before The Dog does), we feel duped and angry – our sympathetic nervous system activated for no reason – and we do what every audience member (now clearly defined as Dog Owner) does. We yell at Hildy shut the hell up.
It’s remarkable how quickly she does, and the next action makes up the third and final state that she delivers to us. Wordlessly, but with what definitely feels like dialogue, she comes up to the audience and simply looks. But we can tell, the wagging tail, the perked up ears, the eyebrows arched, we can tell that all she wants is for us to tell her she’s done well.
And this is the true magic of the piece. When she approaches the audience, we find ourselves scratching her chest and telling her not just that she’s a “Good Dog”, but that she’s the very best dog that has ever been a dog. This pattern is repeated throughout the performance and on occasion, audience members have been reduced to baby talk and the kind of heightened praise usually reserved for perfect spelling tests of young children.
Up to this point, we’ve seen the three acts of the performance. 1) The Dog At Rest, (which may seem to be static but actually contains innumerable shifts and contortions), 2) The Dog On Guard, (a quick, unsettling explosion of activity that unnerves more than the best horror plays) and 3) The Dog Who Begs (which should be annoying, but thanks to the incredible talents of The Dog is actually adorable).
And then we come to the strange payment method for the production. There are no tickets, no seats, no program but at two different times during the 24-hr performance, The Dog comes to the audience with Act Three, and we are compelled to fill her dish with food. Ten minutes after that, we have to walk the dog to the park, let her shit and then pick up her shit with a bag.
(I can see how that might be a deal breaker for other theater goers. Especially in bad weather.)
While technically this is an audience participation piece, you can give as much or as little as you want. We spent most of the performance sitting on our laptop, watching TV, working on grant proposals and new scripts, really almost anything other than watching The Dog.
But this is a good thing. It’s a deeply relaxing and reassuring piece. As opposed to The Cat (playing elsewhere in the neighborhood) the production contains no ambivalence, the character is very simply played and the motivations are crystal clear. The Dog loves you, wants to protect you and every once in a while, wants to be fed and petted. This reviewer enjoys The Dog FAR MORE than The Cat in almost every regard. Other theatergoes are not wrong when they say The Cat is an asshole.
Ultimately, it’s a deeply satisfying production in every possible way. Perhaps the only real downside is the knowledge that it’s a limited run, due to genetics, and when the show closes after a dozen or so years it will simply break your heart into a million pieces.