Wild Dogs Makes its World Debut in Toronto

Cynthia Cheng

Wild Dogs makes its world debut as the first play at the Nightwood Theatre’s 2008/09 season.  The show, based on a book by Helen Humphreys and adapted for the stage by Anne Hardcastle, stars Tamara Podemski as Alice.  The story is about several people who gather in the woods each night looking for their lost dogs.  It is believed that the dogs have “gone wild.”

The play is predominantly set in and around a farm near the woods where the dogs wandered into.  A relatively unique feature of the play is that it is performed almost in a narrative style, with little dialogue between characters.  Instead, everyone seems to have his or her own stories to tell, about their dogs as well as issues affecting their lives.  It’s as if the audience is the fly on the wall at the therapist’s office.

The character who stood out the most was not Alice, played by the award-winning Tamara Podemski, but Taylor Trowbridge, who plays the tragic Lily.  Her performance as a woman who suffered brain damage as a child was so believable that the audience wonders whether the actress was really “special.”

In terms of the set, it is very simple and predominantly black and white.  There are many different ways of interpreting the colourless set.  The play is set in a small, rundown North American town that has seen better days.  The people who appear at the woods each day in hopes that their dogs would come back to them are lonely.  Each character has his or her own issues in addition to the lost dogs.  Rachel (Raven Dauda) is a workaholic biologist, Jamie (Stephen Joffe) is an abused child, Walter (Les Carlson) is a hypochondriac.  Lily is disabled as a result of an accident which caused brain damage. Spencer (Tony Nappo) feels that he has lost his masculinity after he was let go of his job.  Alice has relationship issues.  The most interesting is perhaps Malcolm (Steve Cumyn), the eccentric recluse who is Alice’s landlord.  He talks about his mother quite a bit, but we never see her, giving off a very Hitchcockian vibe.  Of course the colourlessness could also simply be for aesthetic reasons – the black and white contrast with the actors who are generally wearing colour, making them pop out.

Wild Dogs is definitely a production worth seeing if you are interested in something small and low-key.  The smaller theatre setting is definitely a contrast to the productions one expects of Mirvish musicals or productions seen at the Shaw or Stratford Festivals.  It is even more intimate than productions at the Young Centre for Performing Arts at the Distillery District.  But the intimacy of the production is what makes the show work.  Without a doubt, this production would not have as much of an effect to the audience if it was performed in a larger theatre.

Wild Dogs is playing at the Nightwood Theatre at The Berkeley Downstairs Theatre until November 8.  For ticket information, please visit their website.  Tickets are generally $25-$45, with the exception of Mondays, when it is pay-what-you-can (suggested price of $15).