Wild Dogs Adaptation Hasn’t Been Unleashed

raven dauda, les carlson, steve cumyn, taylor trowbridge & tamara podemski

photo by robert popkin.

Six people stand on the edge of the wood at dusk calling to their lost dogs. Six people just trying to survive, and six dogs turned wild that joined a wolf pack. Nightwood Theatre’s production of Wild Dogs playing at the Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre has hauntingly beautiful moments, but the poetry and prose of the words aren’t enough to transcend perfectly to the stage.

Wild Dogs is a novel written by Helen Humphreys, and there is no doubt in my mind that this novel is stunning, poignant and beautiful. It was adapted for the stage by Anne Hardcastle, who keeps most of the narrative and description of the novel in place, so the audience feels as though they are being told a beautiful tale- but they are never quite allowed to watch it unfold. The play could be so powerful and emotionally heart wrenching, if the characters were left to develop themselves and the story was able to take flight and emerge- free from the constraints of the narrative.

The director, Kelly Thornton, creates a strong sense of the world of the characters and their intense feelings of despair and repressed wildness, but she faces difficulties in staging many scenes because the characters are recapping what has happened rather than experiencing it.

The actors give amazing performances and it is fascinating to watch them because the characters do not speak in their own voices, but each express themselves in the same poetic and poignant voice of the novelist. Therefore, it is entirely left up to the actors to create their characters unique personality traits from their physicality and their vocal intonations. Les Carlson is perfect as Walter, an old man whose family merely tolerates him, Tamara Podemski uses strong physicality and a deeply earnest voice to give Alice the dimension and depth that she needs to carry the show, Tony Nappo gives a tender performance as Spencer, the hunter whose life is crap, and Taylor Trowbridge is awing and phenomenal as Lily, the wildest one of all.

Wild Dogs made me want to go to Indigo and buy Humphreys’ novel, but onstage, I felt a little too far removed from the characters to feel the story pulsing inside me. I watched it all happen. I wish Hardcastle had let me experience it.

Wild Dogs is produced by Nightwood Theatre in association with The Canadian Stage Company. It runs October 4th-November 8th, 2008 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets call 416 944-1740 or online visit http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/

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