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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 4 years ago

Theater review: 'My Barking Dog'

“My Barking Dog” takes a bite out of civilization at Urbanite Theatre.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Eric Coble’s “My Barking Dog” isn’t tame, safe or house trained. Actually, it’s not a dog at all — it’s a coyote. (The Latin name for which is Canis latrans, i.e., “barking dog.”) Dog or coyote, the beast is taking a bite out of civilization at Urbanite Theatre.

Let’s begin at the beginning …

Two social misfits speak alternating monologs, occasionally joining their voices in unison. Toby (Miles Duffield) is an unemployed corporate drone. He wanders his apartment, laptop in hand, seeking a free Wi-Fi signal like a lost soul. Melinda (Caitlin Hargraves) is an employed drone, feeding paper into hungry presses on the solitary night shift at a 24-hour printing plant. Their realistic drudgery and alienation quickly veers into absurdism. The photo on Melinda’s employee badge is as ageless as the portrait of Dorian Gray. She tells the tale of another employee who aged so rapidly he needed a new photo taken every hour. Until he died.

Coble’s play starts off in Ionesco territory, then swiftly cuts across the field to the land of “Fight Club” like a dog chasing a squirrel.

Photo by Ryan Finzelber

A magical coyote appears! This coyote catalyst sparks their souls with a hunger for wildness. Melinda starts leaving it raw meat on their apartment complex steps. The beast gobbles it up, sometimes returning, other times not. The two obsess about the critter with a quasi-religious fervor. Maybe something more. No sooner do I scratch the words “Coyote porn” in my notebook, when a funny thing happens …

Maybe something mystical, maybe something physical.

I guess we’ll never know. A romantic interlude, let’s say. But Toby is in a family way. Melinda, meanwhile, is burning down abandoned buildings, tearing up old tennis courts, planting apple seeds and spreading compost. To make room for the wild things, of course.

And that’s just the beginning. Like Tyler Durden and the Joker, Melinda wants to see the world burn.

Photo by Ryan Finzelber

Cobin’s play starts off at a low flame that gradually rises to white-heat intensity. Director Daniel Kelly slowly turns up the flame and lets the play’s mad dialectic play out. Duffield and Hargraves nicely embody a shuffling loser turned feral beastman and a robotic pieceworker turned revolutionary firestarter. Their doomed dance plays out in Mark Beach’s set of disconnected urban puzzle pieces.

Not a dull moment. Not a derivative moment.

Photo by Ryan Finzelber

Great writing. Great performances. Great directing. In a play about two slightly unhinged people who turn into two seriously crazy people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Don’t get me wrong. Crazy is the nitroglycerine of drama.

Yes, it gets an impact. Jack Torrance’s ravings; Norman Bates’ love for his mother; the list goes on. The nameless hero of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” had a split personality (aka Tyler Durden) who eloquently expressed his desire to rewind civilization to the Stone Age. Tyler makes a good point. But author Pahlunik never entirely buys it. He keeps his distance between Tyler’s crazy gospel and some semblance of sanity.

The playwright of “My Barking Dog” doesn’t.

The actors express their disorienting journey with Coble’s soaring, poetic language. Everything’s keyed to a fever pitch — with occasional gags and giggles when it gets too heavy. Each fever-pitch monolog is also a sales pitch — for the destruction of civilization, naturally. Toby and Melinda resemble alt-right caricatures of tree huggers — worshipping nature instead of God, and all that. A satire of the ecologically over-sensitive, perhaps.

Either that, or Coble really would like to see cities burn.

OK. This hit me on a gut level and rattled my cage. Urbanite Theatre doesn’t play it safe. What else is new? It’s a philosophical play. I disagree with the philosophy — assuming I’m reading it right.

See it yourself, and make up your own mind.

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