Day of the Dog | St. Louis Actor’s Studio

dayofdog 75The old saying goes, “Every dog has his day,” but I just don’t think this one is quite to that point yet.

 

Anyone who has ever lived with a pet dog knows the animal is sensitive to his or her owner’s moods. If you’re sad, the dog stays close and leans up against you, seemingly trying to offer comfort. When you’re happy, the dog bounces around energetically wanting to play. But most of all, the dog wants to be with you, and if more than one human is in the home, the dog generally has a favorite. Such is the case in Daniel Damiano’s Day of the Dog, currently making its world premiere at The Gaslight Theatre.

Carrot (the dog), unseen but often heard, has committed his loyalties to Julianne (Tamara Kenny), wife of Paul (Steve Isom) and mother to Brittany, who is also physically absent. In fact, Carrot is so attached to Julianne that he has become aggressive with Paul and Brittany, to the extent that Paul has bandages on both arms from where he has been bitten. The couple has consulted pet therapists with no success, but on this day, Vadislav (Jason Grubbe), a self-styled “Canine Relations Specialist” with a heavy Eastern-European accent, shows up to consult with them. Paul heard of his success with a pet belonging to a friend of a friend, so he made an appointment. Julianne is concerned that they don’t know enough about him to let him in their house, much less treat Carrot.dayofdog 250

Also, Julianne is having an otherwise busy day. She runs an interior design business that incorporates principles of feng shui to create peaceful spaces like their own Florida bungalow, the part we see being an attractive living room with doors leading to unseen spaces in the rest of the house. She is almost obsessive in her fussing with the placement of magazines and decorative items. Paul is an accountant who wanted to be a chef, but due to an unfortunate incident in the past, that goal didn’t work out. Brittany is 16, plays an oboe, and is headed off on to Austria with her orchestra the day after this one. Vadislav believes it’s important to have the entire family present for the session, so he asks that Brittany be called home from rehearsal, which Paul is willing to do over Julianne’s objections.

Actually, Julianne seems to object to many things. She is preoccupied with what is going on in her career, and a possible television show is in her future. Paul is the “pleaser,” at least on the surface. His priority is to restore harmony by working out the problems with the dog, of which he is clearly afraid. In fact, every time the dog barks, Isom jumps so dramatically that it’s almost comical. And maybe it’s supposed to be, because this play is, at least for much of the time, a comedy. And parts of it are funny. For example, when Paul offers Vadislav a refreshment, thinking a glass of water, Vadislav accepts…but he wants a tuna fish sandwich on pumpernickel and two fingers of vodka. Paul complies, Julianne is appalled, and we are delighted.

Damiano said in an interview that he got the idea for the story from The Dog Whisperer on the Animal Planet network, only Vadislav seems much more interested in the couple than the animal. Every time one of them suggests he see Carrot, he says, “not yet.” He manages to talk with them separately and together, peeling away the layers of their lives down to the core, and in doing so, we get to know the couple very well. The question is, Do we want to? Because, after one of the talkiest plays I’ve seen lately, I found I just didn’t much care about either one of them, but I did like Vadislav a lot. Grubbe is a gem here, just as he was in Season’s Greetings by this company back in December. His delivery and timing are impeccable.

Isom seems out of his element, but I’m willing to suggest it may have been an off night. He lost track of a male pet’s sex for an entire scene, referring to a “he” as a “she.” Lines were flubbed. He overacted sometimes and seemed to zone out at others. Kenny is hampered by trying to play Julianne, a cold and unsympathetic character, but there are changes in her as we proceed through the piece, and she doesn’t make them believable. To Isom’s credit, he does, and by the end of the play, his performance is the stronger of the two.

To be fair to all the actors, the line pickups aren’t fast enough, so the whole thing seems draggy, and that’s on director Milt Zoth. Damiano said the action should move very quickly, and the script (which I read) has characters talking over each other a lot, but I didn’t notice much of that in performance. Also, each of the three has a kind of “aria,” a numbingly long speech to explain what they have thought, are thinking, and may think in the future. In the end, however, these are all professionals, and the play itself just doesn’t seem strong enough for a full production. Workshopping the script should help because the central premise is a good idea—which, at the moment anyway, is bogged down in a lot of unnecessary verbiage and some questionable choices of material by the playwright.

This is a good-looking production, especially the living room set by Cristie Johnston, which is finished right down to the crown moldings and sponge paint. Everything is nicely lighted by Jonathan Zelezniak, and Zoth’s sound both sets the mood with music, but also incorporates the various moods of Carrot the dog. The old saying goes, “Every dog has his day,” but I just don’t think this one is quite to that point yet. The audience response was favorable, and listening to comments after the show, clearly most people enjoyed themselves. It’s worth your time, I think, for some laughs in the beginning and home truths along the way, but do prepare for what isn’t an especially long evening (a little over two hours with an intermission), but does seem like it. | Andrea Braun

Day of the Dog runs at The St. Louis Actors’ Studio in the Gaslight Theatre through March 24, 2013. You may visit www.stlas.org.

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