It's well documented, of course (or, at the very least widely rumoured), that any similarity between us and them isn't necessarily coincidental. How many times have you seen a hangdog expression common to both master and mastered? Or mistress and lapdog with a similar gait?
It's not the first production of The Dog Logs (it first hit the boards in 2001 and has played seventeen cities and towns across the country since) and it and it probably won't be the last, but it's a good one, staged, bravely, in the bistro of a pub (The Cat & Fiddle, Balmain). The company responsible is Insomniac Theatre and Maggie Scott directs. She's the producer, too. And, on that basis, clearly, she's also a glutton for punishment.
You don't have to be a dog, or dog lover (especially not in the biblical sense) to dig The Dog Logs. But it helps. It's not all wheezy laughs, a la Muttley, either. Believe it or not, there's heart, should and even poignancy. In at least once instance, tragedy isn't too strong a word. Why, love is even in the air, here or there. If you're prepared to suspend disbelief and let yourself imagine a dog's life to be as challenging as your own, at least from his or her perspective, you won't baulk at these personality profiles of eleven very different dogs, played astonishingly well by Scott Grimley, Richard Daven, Collin Jennings and Andrew Mead. Indeed, CJ has cunningly deployed canines to interrogate the human condition: it's so much easier to laugh at a dog, than ourselves, isn't it?
It may be the first and last time you see dogs perform monologues; which is a damn sight more difficult than rolling over, or fetching. The suite of vignettes begins, as best I recollect, with Borys, The Rottweiler (Andrew Mead). If you think a man playing a bloody big dog can't bring you to the brink of tears, think again. Of course, it's CJ's scenario (based on the real-life mauling by neighbours' dogs of his West Highland White Terriers, when he was but eleven) that makes it possible. CJ has had the generosity to write it from the killer's perspective. Toy dogs taunting from the other side of the fence finally get the better of Borys and their grisly comeuppance. Presumably meaning well and to save him from the ignominy of a 'public execution', Borys' master, after a period withholding food, poisons his meals. We see and feel Borys, like a common criminal, relating his remorse. It's surprisingly powerful and affecting.
We also meet a couple of rather complacent, slow-witted country dogs, Cobber and Blackie (Grimley and Jennings), who both take something of a competitive shine to the new bitch in town. She's so hot: she doesn't even have a trace of mange! But, in the end, nothing can surmount their loyalty to each other. They're like two old blokes from the bush, who've been mates for yonks.
One of the cleverest, most engaging, widest-eyed slices of a dog's life involves a greyhound that's even more tenacious than most. It's a breed that might suffer a reputation for not being the sharpest in the kennel, but this one's exceptional: he's so determined to nab the rabbit, he devises a plan. Yep, this time, rather than try and go faster than ever, he's going to stop and wait for the rabbit to come to him. Of course, it doesn't go exactly to plan.
There's a preening, pompous Afghan stud that boasts about how quickly he can despatch his genetic imprint. This is the only dog log in which we hear from a female counterpart, who isn't quite so impressed with the wham-bam, thank you ma'am!' approach. There's a police dog who has a fierce, unwavering loyalty to his partner, that relates an anecdote underscoring the sometimes brutal nature of his profession. A customs beagle has everything to be sniffy about, in telling of his daily grind. A kelpie has on-the-job challenges, too, albeit very different in nature, and we're made privy to one especially tricky situation with a sheep separated from the flock. Jack Russell's are characteristically irrepressible, with boundless energy and the one we meet is no exception. His attention span his short and, on requesting a leg to hump, one woman in the audience happily complies. We also encounter a labrador, bespectacled and arthritically stiff, but still with one eye on the ladies.
The naughtiest of all, though, is the dingo: 'yeah, I did it', he confesses, with mischievous pride.
All three performers teeter on brilliance; their bipedal shortcomings barely noticeable. Scott's direction is self-assured and, with every production, CJ's cements his, um, boner fidos.
You're barking mad if you didn't see it.
Insomniac Theatre presents
THE DOG LOGS
by CJ Johnson
Director Maggie Scott
Venue: Cat and Fiddle Hotel | 456 Darling Street, Balmain
Dates: Until March 24, 2013