The Dog Show
A dysfunctional family drama with a difference: structured as a mystery which is not revealed until the next to last scene.
Ivan Faute’s The Dog Show is a dysfunctional family drama with a difference: structured as a mystery which is not revealed until the next to last scene. Unfortunately, by then the audience has figured out what happened and has lost interest in it having waited so long. It is no help that the characters are flat, that is, they do not change nor seem to have any internal conflicts. While the actors are fine in portraying family members, they remain two dimensional throughout and end up pretty much where they were at the beginning by the final curtain.
The author has a good ear for dialogue but he doesn’t yet know how to use it to reveal character. The four members of the family talk and talk but we learn little about them after two hours. Much of the backstory is never revealed and there are many unanswered questions even when it is over. The climactic information is delivered in so matter-of-fact a style that it hardly seems a revelation.
The play alternates between scenes at Commodore and Pauline’s home and a prison hospital that Pauline appears to have been committed to following some unnamed event. While foster daughter Shawna visits Pauline at her residence, son Alex who has been away three years without a word returns to find out what has happened to his mother as her crime was not reported in the newspapers. He discovers his father Commodore (who is twenty years older than his wife) is dying of heart and lung disease. Shawna appears to have been keeping him going though she has her own apartment and works as a nurse at a local hospital. No one will tell Alex what happened that landed his mother in jail. However, he is conscious that the family kennels are empty.
The family is good at playing games: trading information for a physical object or an untold story. Still unknown is the whereabouts of the other son Taylor who has been gone awhile. However, the author plays his own games doling out information periodically but in his own time. It is not until 45 minutes into the play that we find out the character relationships. But is Shawna the daughter of Pauline’s dead sister Effie or someone else? Her parents are not identified. Why Commodore is called that as well as Captain is never explained. However, Pauline’s alcoholism from an early age which got out of hand is established from the beginning. It is the sort of play where one is expected to connect the dots but with information that should have been made clear earlier. This is not Pinter or Beckett where the not knowing is the story.
The four actors remain in character at all times: Cathy Carlton as fiftyish Pauline, Conor Murphy as twentysomething son Alex, Barry Rowell as seventyish Commodore, and Raimy O. Washington as thirtyish Shawna. Unfortunately, under Christina Rose Ashby’s direction, the actors are given little to do so that they remain static, inert and unvarying. They are what they appear to be, no more, no less. It is not enough that there is a mystery: we don’t care enough about these people to want to piece it together.
The uncredited set is basic and serviceable without telling us much about these people or their milieu. Only the script reveals that it takes place about 75 miles southeast of St. Louis a few years ago. Neither the set nor the uncredited costumes tell us how much time passes in the course of the play. Except for a reference in the last scene as to it being a year since the previous scene, there are no clues to the time scheme. Autum Casey’s lighting design is often rather dark without our knowing why (shades not pulled up, winter light, etc.?) Michael Genese’s plaintive violin (sounding like a deep cello) is heard between the 13 scenes.
Ivan Faute’s The Dog Show is ambitious in trying to tell a story by holding back on the details. Unfortunately, the method has grave, unresolved problems. For most of the first act we have no idea why it has been given this title. Neither the direction nor the script allows the performers to develop their characters who remain at the end the same as at the beginning. There is a play buried in this material but as of now it has not surfaced.
The Dog Show (January 12 – 29, 2023)
Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre at The Players Theatre, third floor, 115 MacDougal Street, at Minetta Lane, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.dogshowplay.com
Running time: two hours and ten minutes including one intermission
Leave a comment