The Dogs | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Dogs 

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The Dogs, Billy Goat Experiment Theatre Company, at the Broadway Armory. The locale is a dingy farmhouse kitchen on the southern border of Texas, but scholarly playgoers may quickly sense something familiar in Robert Barrie's tabloid tale of an abandoned wife who strives, with some assistance from her brother-in-law, to make a living for herself and her one surviving child. Then her errant husband returns after making a fortune through drug running, accompanied by a junkie waif given to eerily prophetic visions, and the significance of their names--Aggie, Nessa, Electra, Gus, Cassie--becomes clear.

In less ambitious hands The Dogs might be little more than a sophomoric spoof on the tragedy of Agamemnon. But Barrie appears equally comfortable with pop and classical literary forms, and has fashioned a text that's cohesive as a translation of the Greek myth and in its own right. Under the direction of Todd Zaruba, the actors in this world-premiere production deliver performances of such focused intensity that not even the potentially ludicrous device of the family hounds serving as a chorus impedes our involvement in the fates of these characters, right up to the final image of a sullen Electra brooding about avenging her father's grisly murder. "Nature is nature," the animal witnesses conclude gloomily. "We cannot stop it." Aeschylus couldn't have said it better.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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