Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Barking Dog

Cleveland playwright asks lots of questions at CPT

Eric Coble, one of the area’s most prolific and award winning playwrights, who often asks more questions than he answers, is at it again. In the past, Coble has inquired, “How far would you go for your child?” BRIGHT IDEA. “In this plugged-in world of email, text-messaging and camera phones, do a bride and groom really need to be in the same country to go on a honeymoon?” FOR BETTER. What happens when someone goes where they shouldn’t?” GOLD IN THE BONES. “Will the collapse of civilizations be heralded by 7 words: "Human Resources wants to meet with you?" HR. And, “Is the world sliding towards apocalypse?’” NATURAL SELECTION.

This time, in MY BARKING DOG, which is getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, Coble asks, “Can we balance control and chaos in a way that allows and encourages life?”

The theatre is publicizing the show with the statement, “Two lonely people's lives take a dramatic turn for the bizarre when a starving coyote starts appearing at their doorsteps.” Yes, that’s the short of it, but there is so much more.

Toby (Nick Koesters) is an out of work lonely man who spends his days searching the internet for a job. He’s been out of work for 9 months and is quickly coming to the conclusion that he has unremarkable skills and is running out of financial and emotional resources. His neighbor, Melinda (Heather Anderson Boll) lives alone, works alone and has little purpose in her life. The two meet when they discover that a coyote, who supposedly lives in a park near their dwelling, visits their back apartment stoops. Melinda starts feeding the animal. The duo spends inordinate amounts of time in their shared venture of waiting for and observing the creature. Reality transitions into fantasy as they both seemingly become obsessed with the animal, nature and the paradox of the options that life offers.

This is a perfect script to be staged by the imaginative Jeremy Paul, who has established himself as one of the area’s most gifted directors. The quirky nature of the material and the need to look beyond the script for motivations and sense-making is perfect for Paul, and he does not let the audience down. The experience is often mesmerizing. Of course, the fact that he is blessed with two superlative actors does not hurt.

Nick Koesters does not portray characters, he inhabits them. His construction of Toby is just another of his outstanding creations. Unfortunately for Cleveland audiences, in July he leaves the area to become part of the resident company of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. It’s too bad that Koesters has to go elsewhere to ply his trade, while professional companies, such as Great Lakes Theatre Festival and the Cleveland Play House go outside the area in search of talent, and abandon locals, forcing them to look elsewhere. (The area also lost the talented Dan Folino to Barter.)

Heather Anderson Boll compels in her transition from the shy, routine-oriented Melinda, to the woman with a blinding and incendiary obsession. This is one talented lady!

Richard Ingraham’s sound design and Scott Chapman’s lighting design add the right tones to the production.

Capsule judgement: MY BARKING DOG may be too abstract for some, too bizarre for others, but it is worth going to see if for no other reason then to enjoy two totally professional actors ply their immense talents.