The West Coast premiere production at The Theatre @ Boston Court is tightly directed by Michael Michetti, and convincingly acted by Ed F. Martin and Michelle Azar. My real issues with the play arise from Eric Coble's script. It starts out effectively, if a bit slowly. We are introduced to unemployed Toby, who dresses for the success he no longer has, while he spends his days in his apartment, poaching wi-fi from his neighbors in order to email off more resumes in a fruitless effort to get a job. Simultaneously, but separately, we meet Melinda, who works in a factory feeding paper into a printer (excellently created only by Tom Ontiveros's lights and John Zalewski's sound). She prefers working by herself on the night shift so that she can be alone with her not-particularly-deep thoughts. And in a rather impressive opening monologue, we elegantly learn that she has stagnated so much in this job, she has not changed at all in fourteen years.
Their lives do change when, late one night, their apartment building is visited by a coyote. This wild, possibly mystical creature is, almost literally, a breath of fresh air in their lives. When Toby and Melinda first bond over meeting the coyote (they call it Him, and you can hear the capital letter in their reverential pause), theres a horrible moment when you think this play is going to be about a chance mutual encounter with a coyote bringing these two loners together into some sort of relationship. But Coble's play isn't going anywhere so conventional. Instead, Toby and Melinda, each in their own way, start to think that maybe this intrusion of nature into their unhappy urban world is something to be encouraged, and perhaps even hastened.
This makes a certain amount of sense. Society hasn't done much for Toby and MelindaToby's lifestyle was destroyed by a random layoff, and Melinda is nothing more than a cog in the machine she serves. The unpredictability of the coyote promises everything missing from their lives, and it makes sense that Toby and Melinda embrace it. Azar's Melinda starts the play speaking a little slowly, as though she isn't particularly bright. But when she starts finding what she believes to be her purpose in life, she talks faster, and everything about her comes alive: Melinda seems prettier and her movements are more self-assured than when we first met her. Toby changes too, and Martin is completely believable while he descends into a rather more natural version of himself.
But, while I was willing to accept nearly every improbable step in Toby and Melinda's journey, there was one I simply couldn't buy. Something pretty darned impossible happensthe characters even comment on its physical impossibilitybut it undeniably happens. And when it does, it changes your perception of what is actually going on here. No longer is this an interesting study of unhappy urban dwellers considering making their lives more natural; it is a completely different investigation of two deranged individuals sharing a common delusion. It is difficult to accept the play on its own terms when all you're really hoping is that someone finds these people and locks them up before they cause any more harm to themselves or others. Its unfortunate, because there's certainly a lot here to like, and a lot that would otherwise be thought-provoking. Whether any given audience member will accept Coble's premise and go on the journey with him is dependent on where that person draws the line of disbelief. But for me and the few audience members I heard laughing, Coble takes it one step too far.
My Barking Dog runs at the Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena through May 24, 2015. For tickets and information see www.BostonCourt.com.
Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky & Michael Michetti; Executive Director Michael Seel -- presents My Barking Dog by Eric Coble. Directed by Michael Michetti. Scenic Design Tom Buderwitz; Lighting & Video Design Tom Ontiveros; Costume Design Garry Lennon; Sound Design John Zalewski; Assistant Director William Hickman; Dramaturg Matthew Quinlan; Casting Director Julia Flores; Production Stage Manager Alyssa Escalante; Key Art Design Mila Sterling.