“Red Dog Howls”, a new play by Alexander Dinelaris, explores
a subject not often discussed: the horrific genocide of the Armenians by the
Turks between 1915 and 1918. Directed well by Ken Rus Schmoll, the play, while
worthwhile, goes over the line in suffocating to death one of the characters on
stage. Forewarned is forearmed!
The playwright places his work in a contemporary setting;
the space, designed by Marsha Ginsberg and lit by Tyler Micoleau, encompasses a
small part of the apartment of Michael and Gabriella Kiriakos, the larger but
spare living room of 92 year old Rose Aftarian, and a hospital room. Gabriella,
played cheerily by Florencia Lozano, is expecting her first baby; her husband,
Michael, a writer, sincere Alfredo Narciso, has discovered a packet of letters
belonging to his recently deceased father, with a written order not to open
them. He has burned them, but saved an address. Gabriella encourages him to
follow up and find out where this leads him.
Michael enters the home of
Rose, white-haired, in a long type of house dress (Costumes: David C.
Woolard) ; she turns out to be his long lost grandmother, who had left her
husband after 7 years of marriage. Depicted by Kathleen Chalfant, proud, gruff
and authoritative, she does not even know his name. But in short order insists
on drying his clothes and giving him homemade food and drink, which he gobbles
up with enthusiasm. Strangely, she
mysteriously knows who he is. Thus
begins a cat and mouse game, as they get to know each other. Michael notes that
Rose picks at her food and never eats meat, but when he calls her a vegetarian she
is insulted. Rose refuses to meet
Gabriella, who is lonely and peeved with Michael for spending so much time away
from home. (Shades of “If There Is, I Have Not Found It Yet.” )
While Gabriella is fighting for her life and that of the
baby, Rose reveals her ghastly story. It involves the deaths of her husband and
children. In order to save Michael, Michael's father, she is forced by
the Turkish soldiers to eat her dead infant daughter. Suffused with guilt, she
wants Michael to kill her to assuage the evil spirit. This is where the play Red
Dog Howls does not make sense. Rose
has lived at least 70 years with this suffering and has not committed suicide.
Michael has brought her new life, a reason for living. Why would she request
this now? Why would Michael, a rather naïve, optimistic young man, agree to do
this? And actually murder a woman whom he loves and live with it so
lightly? For me, this does not compute.
“Red Dog Howls” covers
an interesting subject and had the potential to be a good play, but relies on a
gimmick to complete the plot. At the New
York Theatre Workshop.