Like Taste, Benjamin Brand’s recent play about a man driven to devour his own flesh, My Barking Dog by Eric Coble shocks and surprises, and in a most brilliant and entertaining way. Commencing as a portrait of two alienated souls, it builds beyond that initial rendering into a grim but droll commentary on our culture’s chilly dystopian values. Along the way it examines the macabre extremes to which alienation can spur the humblest and most vulnerable people.
Coble’s two characters, Melinda (Michelle Azar) and Toby (Ed F. Martin), dwell in an unnamed city. The odd, misanthropic Melinda works the night shift in a printing factory, where she spends hours feeding paper into a machine. Toby, her neighbor two floors up, is college-educated and unemployed, the victim of impersonal downsizing. He tries hard to keep his spirits up, but his money is running out and poverty is closing in.
When we meet them, Melinda and Toby don’t know one another — but they are brought together after they independently spot a coyote on their fire escape landing. Both are fascinated by the animal. Melinda begins to feed it so it will come around more often, but Toby goes further, inviting the creature into his home. Eventually, wallflower Melinda becomes an eco-terrorist, developing a messianic obsession with saving wildlife.
The play, 90 minutes long and directed by Michael Michetti, is at various moments poetic, funny, gripping and stomach-churning, and sometimes all these things together. Azar and Martin are both excellent, although it is Toby’s descent from middle-class civility that is the more fascinating and grotesque of the stories here. By the end, Martin’s performance has become mesmerizing.
Abetting your journey into their netherworld are Tom Buderwitz’s scenic design — which splits apart to reveal, metaphorically, the wilds in our midst — along with Tom Ontiveros’ eerie lighting and John Zalewski’s haunting sound.
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