By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“I’m trying to find meaning here,” Terry tells us in the very first line of Terry and the Dog. It’s a theme he’ll return to at the end, and regularly in between.
So are we all, Terry; we’re with you on this. Collin Doyle’s new play is, strangely, both gut-wrenching and elusive, raw and mysterious. How can this be? I hear you ask.
In Terry and the Dog, and Dave Horak’s gripping Edmonton Actors Production, we meet a man who is haunted by memories of his sins and the damages they’ve inflicted on those he loves. This is the situation at the outset: Terry, a recovering alcoholic (a status that is perpetually in-progress) is on his front porch, waiting for his dead dog to come back to life.
Buddy has died twice before, in accidents at the hands of his drunk master, and has returned to life both times. “The morning your dog comes back to life can be an… interesting one. My dog was dead. And now he isn’t dead.”
The oddly flat, conversational tone you’re reading in that is built into Robert Benz’s powerfully restrained performance. Unlike many of Doyle’s characters in his other plays, Terry isn’t a witty or articulate man. Bemusement is nearly but not quite within his compass. Terry is not a self-dramatizer; he’s not trying to convince himself, or us, of anything. So it’s not clear what he wants from us, his audience, in telling us the story of his wife Diane (Maralyn Ryan), his son (Cole Humeny), and his dog.
It’s one of the many mysteries of a mysterious play. And Benz impressively resists every temptation to clarify or resolve it for our benefit. The character is an unimaginative man confronted with … dreams? hallucinations? memories? experiences that never retreat from the present into the past to become memories? Benz’s Terry is a steadfast chronicler of his own guilt and loss, a man with a long history of “disappointing other people.”
Terry’s wife, played with a complementary sturdy quiet resolve and understatement by Ryan. leaves him, over and over. And returns, over and over. Ditto their son, trapped in his own raging mysteries, possibly inherited, and played with compelling force by Humeny. This is a play that’s not afraid to be horrifying.
Ryan and Humeny appear, in light, as ghosts at the either end of the alley along which we sit, on either side. And after re-lived scenes with Terry that will make you flinch, they disappear into darkness. The scenes are written with considerable economy, and acted with no embellishment.
Designers Guido Tondino and Victoria Zimski, who create an angled, multi-layered porch from weathered wood, bathe Terry in an eerie blue light of the perpetual present as he tells us story. And, curiously, that light gets warmer, more “real,” in the flashbacks. As props go, a six-pack of unopened Pilsner has never seemed more ominous and momentous; the stakes are high.
So, back to the dog, and the review of Buddy’s previous deaths and returns. “Is it presumptuous of me to expect a third resurrection?”
Maybe. Hard to say. There are things about Terry and the Dog I shouldn’t reveal. There are things about Terry and the Dog I couldn’t reveal even if I wanted to; the ending, I think, got away from me. But there’s this: like time and serial music, alcoholism is a loop — repeated attempts at sobriety, repeated returns to destruction, chaos, the loss of self. Miracles are on Terry’s mind. A miracle has something to do with forgiveness, and forgiveness has something to do with love.
Terry and the Dog
Theatre: Edmonton Actors Theatre
Written by: Collin Doyle
Directed by: Dave Horak
Starring: Robert Benz, Maralyn Ryan, Cole Humeny
Where: PCL Studio Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barn, 10330 84 Ave.
Running: through May 19
Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca)