Crazy for the Dog
nytheatre.com review by Akia Squitieri
June 15, 2006
Crazy for the Dog opens in the sparse but colorful apartment of young Jenny, strewn with Chinese takeout containers and debris. The audience is quickly swept up into her angst-ridden world.
The story takes many twists and turns. Jenny has discovered that her brother Paul is moving across the country with his wife. Jenny, feeling betrayed and hurt, kidnaps Paul's beloved dog, in exchange for the truth about an incident that may or may not have happened in their youth. Enter Sarah, the befuddled wife, who simply wants a quick and peaceful end to an apparent lifetime of conflict between the two siblings. Enter Kevin, Jenny's ex-boyfriend, who hates both Paul and dogs, and just wants the very valuable baseball cards back that Jenny is also holding ransom in exchange for his involvement in the Dog-napping. As each character jumps through the many hoops that Jenny places before them, they become more and more entwined in each others' heartaches and pasts.
Dashing through Jenny's apartment, Harlem, and Van Cortland Park, the hapless characters are on a mad race against time to save both the dog and the siblings' sanity. All the while, the situation and the characters rapidly spiral out of control, and we soon learn that the conflict between Jenny and Paul has very little to do with the dog or his upcoming move across country. There is no perfect ending, no pat answer, no witty resolution; the audience is left to answer their own questions in this beautiful, funny, and thoughtful play.
Wrenn Schmidt plays Jenny with amazing range and depth. This is a character that you don't want to like or feel pity for; Jenny is seemingly a self-absorbed nightmare of a sibling, but Schmidt draws the audience into Jenny's world with shrewd proficiency, and by the end you feel sympathy and want to protect and care for her just as an older sibling would.
Patrick Melville is brilliantly cast as the tightly-wound Paul, who does all of the right things for all of the wrong reasons. His monologue at the end of the play, about the dog and subsequently his life, is absolutely riveting as he manages to slowly deteriorate without crumbling to pieces. Melville reveals each layer of this character with finesse and skill.
As Jenny's on-again/off-again thug-wannabe boyfriend Kevin, Ryan Tramont handles a seemingly one-dimensional character with aplomb. The role of Kevin could easily be comic relief and nothing more, yet Tramont adds wonderful nuances that many actors in the same role might have overlooked. Sarah, Paul's mousy yet willful wife, is played subtly by Karen Sternberg. Unlike the other characters we never really get to see what's underneath Sarah's skin, and therefore Sternberg never really seems to be able to flex her acting muscles, which are obviously brewing beneath the surface.
Eric Parness's direction is tasteful and subtle; there is no heavy-handedness and not a single forced move in the piece. I look forward to seeing more of this talented director. Nick Moore's deftly handled sound design serve the production very well. The set design by Matthew Allar is simple and effective. Costumes (by Sidney Shannon) are fitting and understated, never distracting or highlighting any character over another.
Christopher Boal's brilliantly witty play has soulful depth and rich characters and a moving story, a combination that I wish I saw much more of in contemporary drama. Jean Cocteau Rep's soulful production of Crazy for the Dog made me crazy for this show and I highly recommend it to all!