Fifteen Dogs is a play by Marie Farsi based on the novel of the same name by Andre Alexis. In the novel Alexis takes a flight of the imagination where the gods Apollo and Hermes decide to give dogs human attributes and bet on whether any of them can live and die happily unlike the rest of us mortals.
Farsi’s play indeed has fifteen dogs of various breeds and characteristics who are granted human traits including speech of sorts and the ability to understand love and people to some extent. The play also features gods, muses and people. All these characters are played by six actors who have their work cut out for them. They have to change costumes, be people and dogs in quick and varied order.
Here are some examples of the number of roles that the actors have to tackle. Laura Condlin plays Max, Bella, Rosie, Clare, Nira, Clotho, Old Woman, and Narrator. All of the actors narrate part of the play because most scenes would not make much sense without Alexis’s text.
Peter Fernandes plays Lydia, Athena, Benjy, Atropos and Narrator. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff plays Ronaldinho, Prince, Miguel, Bobbie, Zeus and Narrator. Tom Rooney, one of the best in the cast, gets off lightly with the number of roles – Manjoun, Randy and Narrator but plays one of the most significant parts.
Tyrone Savage has four roles and one of them is a major part: Atticus, Apollo, Driver and Narrator Mirabella Sundar Singh plays Agatha, Frick, Frack, Dougie, Hermes, Lachesis and Narrator.
That adds up to a crowd of 33 characters made up of dogs, mortals and immortals. The actors are people who pretend to be dogs who pretend to be people or at least have many awful and some decent human tendencies. The actors as dogs bark, howl, roll over and usually speak pidgin English and we need to believe that the canines are “human” in accordance with the transformation or transfiguration meted on them by the gods of Olympus.
That is a big and complicated crowd to be handled by six actors and I had difficulty following all the changes and permutations of the plot. My real problem was watching actors pretend to be dogs that pretend to be people. The novel asks us to imagine dogs acting like us – murderous, cruel, ambitious, decent, loveable and needy. I could not make the leap from that to a whole play dominated by the conduct of dogs with human characteristics at that.
The play does cover a lot of human ground as some of the dogs become attuned to people and our behaviour. Love, hatred, fidelity, treachery, kindness, cruelty, hatred, power, submission are all there and if you can overlook many things you can take the play as a staged myth with mostly modern overtones which may take away from the mythical context.
The play takes place in Toronto and we have specific places like High Park, names of streets in the west end of the city and a pleasantly familiar setting. The Greek gods and the rest of the characters wear mostly a hodgepodge of modern costumes (some differ and Zeus is the exception) and we meet Hermes and Apollo in a Toronto bar.
Marie Farsi adapted Alexis’ novel for the stage and directed the play. The movements and quick changes in scene and characters looks nightmarish but Farsi handled the whole thing adeptly.
Fifteen Dogs by Marie Farsi adopted from the novel by Andre Alexis continues until February 12, 2023, in Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crownest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. http://crowstheatre.com/