Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's review of Boy Gets Girl
There is full-frontal male nudity within the first five minutes of Dogs Barking. It isn't nudity of the quick, towel-slipping-on-the-way-off-the-stage variety. Instead, a man waggles his privates suggestively at his ex-girlfriend. This aggressive nudity is your first hint that playwright Richard Zajdlic isn't really keen on traditional boundaries. Dogs Barking doesn't want its audience watching in a detached, unemotional way; it wants your undivided attention.
The setup is fairly simple. The waggler is Neil, who has come to visit Alex eight months after they split up (due, not surprisingly, to Neil's infidelity). During the years they were together, they obtained a mortgage on an apartment (actually a flat - they're English) and, on breaking up, had agreed Alex would keep the apartment. But Neil has procrastinated on signing title over to Alex, and now he has second thoughts. The play begins with Alex and Neil pushing each other's buttons in the way only people who know each other really well can. Alex is in the position of power; Neil is simply an uninvited guest in her home and she treats him like that - waking him up as he sleeps on the couch and ordering him to dress and leave when she goes to work. But Neil knows how to best get under Alex's skin, and as soon as he suggests he's keeping half of the flat, Alex's confidence evaporates as she gets flustered and whines, "You promised!"
When Alex heads off to work, Neil calls his friend Ray over to the flat on the pretense of watching a game on television. In truth, Neil wants Ray to help him move all of Alex's belongings out of the flat. This is, obviously, seriously ratcheting up the level of conflict, which, to this point, has been purely verbal. But it is only when Neil comments to divorced Ray that Ray should have battered his wife beyond recognition that we realize how truly dangerous Neil is. Neil isn't simply playing to win; he's playing for Alex to lose. The question that possesses the audience from that moment onward is, "Exactly how far is Neil willing to go?"
Although an unpleasant ending is pretty much inevitable, Dogs Barking is not simply about building to its climax, although it definitely does that, and does it well. Neil can trade insults with Alex in that half-joking, half-affectionate way of exes who have remained friends, while at the same time giving the audience little glimpses of his hidden agenda. But what makes Dogs Barking a particularly well-written affair is that it isn't satisfied with simply showing Neil and Alex's interactions, it also gives us some insight into what character traits of Neil and Alex led them to this point. Without a doubt, there is something fundamentally wrong with Neil, but the play shows us what that is, where it comes from, and what it is about Alex that plays right into it.
The show puts all of its effort into telling the tale. Esben Melbye's set is functional, but pretty cheap looking. It doesn't really matter; Dogs Barking is about as dependent on its set as Neil and Alex's dispute is truly about their apartment - not at all.
Dogs Barking continues at the Third Street Theatre in West Hollywood, weekends through April 19. $15. For reservations, call (323) 993-7113.
MetaTheatre Company; Alena Bethune, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Racquel Lehrman present Dogs Barking by Richard Zajdlic. Scenic Design Esben Melbye; Lighting Design Josh Levy; Sound Design Ian Jenson; Dialect Coach Lindsay Frame; Press Representative Racquel Lehrman; Production Stage Manager Rocky Lane. Directed by Anthony Meindl.