Review: FGCU, Hayford capture canine whimsy in 'Dog Wish'

Theater professor's new work uses monologues, dance segments, film clips, slides, and movement to try and 'identify a human's place in nature'

Article Highlights

  • "Dog Wish" runs April 3-14 at the FGCU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available online at theatrelab.fgcu.edu. Showtimes are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • Three encore performances will run at 8 p.m. April 15-17 at the SBDAC in downtown Fort Myers. Tickets are $10 and available online at sbdac.com.
'Dog Wish' runs April 3-14 at the FGCU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available online at theatrelab.fgcu.edu. Showtimes are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Photo illustration by Anica Sturdivant

"Dog Wish" runs April 3-14 at the FGCU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available online at theatrelab.fgcu.edu. Showtimes are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

What: Multimedia play about how humans relate to canines

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 14

Where: Arts Complex on the FGCU campus

Cost: $7

Information: (239) 590-7268; theatrelab.fgcu.edu

Something else: Also runs April 15-17 at SBDAC in downtown Fort Myers

On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.

Full event details »

FGCU Black Box Theatre

10501 FGCU Boulevard South, Fort Myers, FL

"Dog Wish" runs April 3-14 at the FGCU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available online at theatrelab.fgcu.edu. Showtimes are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Three encore performances will run at 8 p.m. April 15-17 at the SBDAC in downtown Fort Myers. Tickets are $10 and available online at sbdac.com.

— Oh. Hey. Look. Shoes. Feet. People. Hands. Sniff. Smell. People. People. People. People. People. I am in a building surrounded by all these people and what are all these wonderful smells and I am in heaven up in here. I love people. Yay. Love me. Love me. Oh I like you pretty lady. OMG THE CAT IS GOING TO BE SO JELLY WHEN I TELL HER ALL ABOUT THIS!!!!!

Dog people pegged this by the second sentence. The rest of you think I'm crazy. It might be how our furry, four-legged friends see the world. Or it might not. We may never know.

"Dog Wish," Florida Gulf Coast University professor Michelle Hayford's new applied theatre piece, tries to take the audience inside the canine mind. Hayford built the show around dozens of interviews she and FGCU students conducted with experts and professionals who work with dogs.

The show opens with a volunteer roaming the audience, lobby and crowd with a preternaturally calm pooch who has a tiny camera attached to her collar. Wireless technology allows the audience to see the dog's perspective - big hands, looming faces, legs, feet, crusty toes and all. I love the quiet way the tactic forces you to re-adjust your view of the world. I do wish we could possibly have seen the entire show (or parts of it) from the dog's perspective as well.

"Dog Wish" takes its title from a whimsical James Thurber quote about how man wants "to be as happy and carefree as a dog." Hayford uses monologues, dance, scenes, acrobatics, comedy and multimedia to offer a portrait of how canines have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives, how dogs see humans, the ethics of how humans treat dogs and literally dozens more topics.

Hayford specializes in ethnodrama - plays based on interview narratives. She has the genesis of something in "Dog Wish," something interesting. There's a vigor and excitement in the work I didn't expect. The show retains the "whuff-whuff, I NEED TO SMELL ALL THE SMELLS" aimless, carefree excitement of dogs, but requires at least some structure to make for good theatre. Still, the show represents only the first pass at a wealth of material that needs pruning, refining and tightening.

Full credit to Hayford, her cast and crew. The final draft of "Dog Wish" wasn't finished until late February; actors had about six weeks to learn the two-hour show and staging, dances, etc. Jared Benner, Michael Lee Bridges, Jackie DeGraaff, Steven Goldberg-Pannone and Lenise Joseph join Hayford on stage.

Look for Bridges, especially, as he relates the tale of a field responder with the Humane Society of the United States. In quiet, understated and heartbreaking tones, he makes the audience feel the longing of animals for human comfort. His is the tale of a raid where rescuers found dogs chained to trees in sub-zero weather. One dog snapped her chain, escaped - but with nowhere to go, returned to the same tree, the same chain, to wait for a human to give her attention.

Here, at its heart, lies the best of "Dog Wish" and what Hayford wants her audiences to consider. The message is simple. "How can human beings treat another thinking, compassionate animal with feelings and emotions this way?" We are all not so different, dogs and people. We love, we feel, we exist together.

At least a half-dozen possible shows feel stuffed within "Dog Wish." The mountain of fascinating material tends to muddy the plot, although there is no end to the array of disparate and tantalizing threads of the story on display.

Hayford has segments on cell dogs (heartwarming); senior therapy (tear-jerking); canine adoptions (humorous); pet stores and puppy mills, animal research, K-9 officers and more. Lynn Neuman's whirling dervish choreography to accompany a dogfight dance brings the scene to vivid life.

A lengthy series of pieces, fronted by Joseph and dealing with the complicated relationship African-Americans have with dogs, feels awkward, unfunny and out of place. While the material deserves an in-depth exploration, it doesn't belong here.

The individual segments all feel reasonably well constructed - and the ensemble brings them to life with joy and flair. The best pieces (like an amusing pet shop scene that comments on designer breeds) marry commentary and humor. I do wish Hayford could find a way to lighten the show, either by introducing more levity into the text or bringing in more multimedia, including funny dog photos, videos, etc.

Basic square blocks serve as stools, benches, etc. Tables, plates, cups, tea kettles and a magician's outfit make an appearance. Hayford even performs as "Calling All Pets" host Dr. Patricia McConnell while forking up a Ceasar salad, delivering the dialogue around mouthfuls of Romaine; it is an impressive feat.

The scattershot nature of the narrative, coupled with the hopscotch storytelling, leaves the show a bit tough to follow. The arc of "love dogs, love thyself" arrives, but so much other stuff weighs it down. Hayford, who also directed the show, understands that she needs simple staging, but doesn't go quite simple enough.

Then again, this is the first performance of the first draft of "Dog Wish." It is a work in progress, kind of like puppy's first week of toilet training, or coming home to that chewed-up pair of $100 Ralph Lauren heels and this pair of big sad eyes looking up at you. "Dog Wish" is lovable, interesting, a little bit of a struggle at times but worth it. All dogs are worth it.

Twenty percent of the proceeds from "Dog Wish" will go to The Brody Project, a Collier County non-profit which promotes the health benefits of the human-animal bond.

"Dog Wish" runs through April 14 at the FGCU Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available online at theatrelab.fgcu.edu. Showtimes are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Three encore performances will run at 8 p.m. April 15-17 at the SBDAC in downtown Fort Myers. Tickets are $10 and available online at sbdac.com.

I don't have a dog, but I'm thinking about it. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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