DOGS: A Biting Comedy
nytheatre.com review by Leslie Bramm
August 16, 2012
Theatre Can’s production of DOGS by Ido Bernstein is a brave attempt to solve and resolve a conflict that’s centuries old. The battle between the Arabs and Jews. It’s also a comment on masculinity. The thing that makes us strong is also our greatest fragility. The play is set in Israel and at the center of the story is a gay, theatre director’s quest to produce a production of Romeo and Juliet. He believes the metaphors of two feuding families, and the love that grows out of them is a metaphor for what’s going on in the Middle East. He believes that a production of this play will help teach the lesson of love and begin to heal these age old wounds. He casts the play with all men, Arabs and Jews. He passionately needs this production. Not only to fulfill his vision of peace, but to confirm his masculinity to the very men that call him “faggot”. He soon finds the task to be more than just a little daunting. These “men” aren’t ready to let go of their hatred and bigotry.
I admire this production because it dares to reach for a bold idea and uses theatrical abstraction to create metaphors, that make it’s point. Men with their heads in mop buckets. Men climbing into garbage bags. A man who becomes pregnant. A man who spends the play bound at the wrists. A man who can’t take his helmet off. These symbols are woven into a simple story, and create a statement that strives to change their worlds. Naïve? Perhaps. So are the lyrics to Lennon’s “Imagine”. Powerful never the less.
The play is laced with Jewish and Arabic folk songs, sung in their respective languages. The English translations are printed in the program and we discover these songs are all about love and peace. Simple poems that hope to galvanize very large and complex problems. Racism, war, bigotry. The play reminds us, the solutions are simple, but never easy. The structure of the play is part surreal, part linear drama. There are times when these two styles don’t jibe, but those are few and outshone by the over all idea and motivation for the play. Like it’s protagonist Bernstein’s objective in writing it - clear and passionate.
The ensemble of actors; Benjamin David Elder, Lavi Zytner, Mahmoud Mora, Hai Moar, and Rami Kashy are terrific. Each man gives a fearless and vulnerable performance. They text demands that they fight, dance, sing, all of them do, and they do it well.
Shlomo Plessner directs. He keeps the play moving at a good pace. The action never lulls. He also aids in keeping the individual performances tight.
One play. One idea. One piece of art may never be enough to end this conflict or quell the bloodshed. Theatre Can dared to use the art form to pull actors together from opposite sides of the fence, and get them to play together. That step alone may create the momentum that does.