Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Red Dog Howled Saturday Night

The past month I’ve been to the theatre to see “Lady” and “The Lost Plays of Tennessee Williams.” Saturday night was yet another evening of theatre when I ventured over the hill to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see “Red Dog Howls.”
All I knew about the play was that it’s about the Armenian genocide and it stars the incredibly talented Kathleen Chalfant. My expectations were quite high for a deeply emotional experience. What I got was something less than exciting, though the performances certainly rose above the overwrought script.

The basic premise of the play is a soon-to-be father discovers he has a grandmother whom he thought was deceased. Through their reconnection he learns deep dark family secrets about how the Armenian genocide irreparably changed his family history.

Unfortunately, this production is so leaden with unnecessary dialogue that the audience loses its connection to the main character, Michael Kiriakos (Matthew Rauch). Michael is constantly stepping into a solo spotlight speaking directly to the audience explaining the action and describing his feelings. It’s jarring and unnecessary.

By the time the pivotal scene comes when grandmother Vartouhi Afratian (the superb Kathleen Chalfant) breaks down in an emotional confession the audience isn’t fully invested in her story because the play’s momentum is too often broken by Michael’s self-indulgent monologues.

I commend the production for tackling the Armenian genocide as its subject. It’s a vitally important, and sadly forgotten, piece of history that demands attention.

“Red Dog Howls” has a compelling story and solid acting. What it needs is for playwright Alexander Dinelaris to trim the dialogue, delete the explanations, and allow the actors to do what they do best.

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