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Problems with the Neighbors, Neighbors with Problems

The Day of the Dogs directed by Gili Bar-Hillel produced by Joanna Guldi '00 April 6

By Mary-beth A. Muchmore

"The Day of the Dogs is finally here!" screams Kitty (Anna Medvedovsky '00) towards the end of Alon Hilu's The Day of the Dogs. By that point, however, the audience has probably decided that the day has been a little long in coming. The play's premise is difficult to stomach, and the production is therefore difficult to watch.

Kitty and her husband Beep (Matthew Johnson '99) appear to be a normal, happy young couple, she a nurse and he a student doing medical research out of his apartment. But they're confined to their apartment because of a deep, utterly absurd paranoia: they are afraid of their next-door neighbors' dogs, which, at the end of the play, turn out to be small poodles. They have eight locks on their door (which, in a joke of short-lived appeal, are undone and redone far too many times), a telescope to spy on their neighbors and an unwillingness to leave their home, ever. This set-up forms all of the 80-minute plot, which loses luster and credibility (and the audience's attention) about halfway through the six scenes that make up the noticeably intermission-less play.

Of course, it's amusing when Kitty, who is pregnant and has a nasty case of morning sickness, sends pails of vomit to the neighbors. It's amusing when Beep and Kitty call their neighbors and bark into the phone. It's even amusing when Kitty decides to send poison gas through the pipes, attempting to kill everyone in the building. But none of it's amusing for very long, since the same basic joke is repeated relentlessly.

It then turns out that the whole conflict has also occurred multiple times. At the end of the play, it is revealed that Beep and Kitty have been following these neighbors around from apartment to apartment for years. Each time, they make up a new problem about which to be concerned, complaining about everything from snakes to ants to poisonous spiders. And each time they also attempt to come up with a way of getting back at their neighbors. Beep and Kitty attack the neighbors' toy poodles in the street, bug their apartment and even spy on them from afar.

Beep and Kitty are deeply nuts. They inhabit their own world, one that lacks meaningful contact with the real world. This realization is meant to be a true revelation, but by the time it's actually addressed in dialogue, most viewers have already decided this on their own.

This might be more acceptable if the play had some more lasting, concrete substance or universal applicability, but in this respect it is noticeably lacking. Overall, it walks a thin line between reality and oddball fantasy, particularly since no one can tell when Beep and Kitty are lying or being serious. But then how do Beep and Kitty's obscure epiphanies about dying ("you go to a garden full of flowers") and other intangibles fit in with anything? For a comedy which ultimately revolves around one, oft-repated joke, the play asks a few more questions than it ends up answering.

Despite the unavoidable flaws in the play, the production somewhat redeems itself through some fine acting and creative set design. Johnson has mastered the art of the quivering upper lip and has a fitting look of fear and paranoia on his face for much of the play, as Kitty goads him on about his leg, which the neighbors' dogs have supposedly attacked. But Medvedovsky's Kitty is weaker overall: most of her acting is melodramatic and relies too much on loud, angry shouts juxtaposed with hushed, confiding whispers. Martijn Hostetler '00 provides some comic relief as Itsik, head of the resident's committee in the apartment building.

More impressive than the acting are the attractive set and cleverly used special effects. Behind the central couch, a different framed print hangs for each of the six scenes, each time keyed to the particular mood of the scene. The well-chosen prints ranged from Warhol's iconic Campbell's Soup can to a Chagall print to Munch's The Scream. Another striking feature of the set was a medicine chest in which Kitty keeps her "blue wonder drug"--actually blue M&M's--as she nicknames the poison gas pills. Smoke billows out from the eerily lit medicine cabinet at the end of the fifth scene and creepily snakes its way through the whole of the otherwise darkened theater.

But even with the poison-gas effect the play veers a little too far into the realm of absurdity. The characters successfully end up seeming crazy without being enlightening. They have some insight into this fact: as Beep says early in the play, "Maybe we really are just stupid." But when they suggest they are just like us--in Beep's words, "I guess we're all the same"--one feels inclined to object. The Day of the Dogs never gives us sufficient opportunity to do anything but distance ourselves from the characters.

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