You don’t know what to expect when you first meet Davy and Brad. All you know is, it can’t be good. Their creaky, wooden home near the ocean is dark and dismal. The television set is on the floor, there are crates where chairs should be, beer bottles line every counter top and a Playboy magazine peeks out from beneath the couch. Brad (Ross Patridge), a man with bedraggled hair, long red pajamas and the bottom half of a grisly bear costume, sits on the couch sleeping with a knife under his pillow. He frantically wields the knife when startled by his brother, Davy (Joshua Leonard) who stomps into the room, frustrated with the lack of progress made in training their attack dogs.
Dogs is produced by the Grid Theater Company, recently founded in 2005 with a mission to find stories that focus on raw human emotions. In this respect, Norman Lasca’s intense character study, Dogs, could not have found a better home. His play examines the origins of our emotions, how they are shaped and, more importantly, how they shape us.
We learn that the attack dogs were at one time agreeable household pets. When the brothers purchased them they used a board with nails to instill anger and fury in the once friendly animals. The dogs were not born angry. Neither were the brothers. If they were at one time innocent children, their mother’s abusive boyfriends and currently impoverished living situation have changed that now.
There are many parallels drawn between the brothers and their dogs. Brad and Davy once owned two dogs that their father banished to a corner of the backyard so confined that the brothers remember it as being torturous, although their own surroundings seem just as dreary as the one they are describing. There is also a telling similarity in a soothing song the boy’s mother used to sing to the dogs when they were howling. Later, Brad croons this tune to Davy when he sees his brother doubled over on the floor whimpering like a kicked dog.
Davy’s wrist is wrapped in an Ace bandage due to a wound inflicted by his favorite dog, who bites when he is asked to sit. It is not until Brad points out that Davy’s attack command to, “Hit,” sounds too similar to the general command to, “Sit,” that Davy realizes the error in his training.
At times Davy and Brad are so clueless and idiotic that their antics are humorous, but when a flirtatious young woman named Viv (Jennifer LaFleur) starts hanging around their musty living quarters, their lack of common sense starts to feel more threatening than funny. They openly leer at her, although she seems accustomed to being leered at. When Davy reaches out a shaky hand to caress her cheek she tenses at first, then relaxes, as if resigned to the fact that men feel entitled to touch her without asking.
Leonard, Patridge and LaFleur are superbly nuanced in the way they convey emotion. Their body language says a lot but their weighted glances and glares say more. However, when they stop biting their tongues and start speaking their minds they practically tear the place apart. There is a lot of physical movement in this play and it is not long before the depressing little shack resembles a war zone.
Kenneth Grady Barker’s set lends itself to the undercurrent of hopelessness and depression with which all three characters struggle. They seem lost, both in the world and in themselves. The play's ending doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, but it does warn you to find a way out of your problems before they lead you here - a place where nothing that happens can lead to anything good.