nytheatre.com review by Jose Zayas
August 19, 2007
Bryan Reynolds's Woof, Daddy is a strange and disorienting tale. A businessman and his philosopher son go duck hunting. They speak in platitudes and enigmatic ham-fisted half-sentences. Amidst the dense language they shoot ducks and the father has visions of a young girl and a dog swimming for their lives, one screams "daddy," one screams "woof." Meanwhile the girl and the dog appear to be in some sort of limbo and discover that they can talk to each other. These parallel conversations reveal a mystery centered around the eponymous daddy and around one terrible event.
The play is a confessional of sorts. A family melodrama. An awkwardly deadpan musical. And a serious exploration of grief and the way it can haunt and destroy us. Too much happens in the 40 minutes it takes to tell this story rife with sickness, heated confrontations, possessions, obsessions, talking pets, lost children, and incest. And though the piece aims for some type of cathartic explosion it never manages to reach the heights of melodrama needed to make the final revelations truly devastating. The storytelling is overly gimmicky and does not allow the audience to fully understand, let alone connect with, the family's plight. But despite this, the show is always engaging and the details are surprising and cry out for more stage time.
Amanda McRaven's production is fluid and witty, if a bit too reliant on exhausted movement techniques. She is greatly aided by Karyn Lawrence's subtle and beautifully textured lighting design. They shape the space elegantly and craft a mercurial landscape that connects with the always shifting and rarely still narrative. But all the lovely movement, provided by Marissa Moses, and nifty stage tricks eventually overwhelm the play and the creators are unable to coax the humanity out of the material.
Which is unfortunate, since all of the performers are quite game and charming. Jason Vande Brake has a wonderful voice and his deep bass and hammy delivery mask the truly haunted soul of the father. Andrew Heringer brings great sensitivity and sweetness as the much-injured son, though he does not make the most believable philosophy professor. Christa Mathis plays the double role of mother and daughter with great simplicity and warmth. And Mercedes Manning plays the impossible role of the dog, Sparkles, with incredible physical prowess and specificity. This is a well-oiled ensemble and watching them work off each other is great fun.
This is the kind of show that the Fringe does so well. Weird, quirky, delightfully off-kilter, imperfect sure, but definitely worth a look.