Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater
By Retro Finger
Translated by Lily Sykes
Directed by Guy Ben-Aharon
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Cambridge, MA) Dog Paddle (Or, Struggling Inelegantly Against Drowing) is a brisk 55 minutes long. It is brief, packs a wallop, and, to be blunt, is just short enough that one can still run errands or what have you before the day’s exhaustion catches up. Dog Paddle is an opportunity to enjoy cranial, abstract theatre without wearing one out for the rest of life. It’s perfect.
This avant garde play by one Mr. Retro Finger is about a forthright breakup that fails to launch. After having “the talk,” Robert (Omar Robinson) moves into the basement until he finds a place of his own. What Charlotte (Esme Allen) doesn’t realize is that Robert has no intention of ever moving out. Ever. Robert goes to brutal extremes to thwart Charlotte’s new romances with first Victor (Jeremy Browne) and then Johann (Ed Hoopman, whose headshot’s eyes follows me across the room no matter where I move). Mutual friend Ingrid (Bridgette Hayes) attempts to appeal to both of her friends to get it together with no success.
Dog Paddle is a strange albeit well-written/translated show that presents unhinged behaviors as entirely plausible within the context of the reality shared by the audience. The characters are terrible to each other and they respond as if it’s no big deal. For example, Robert shuts himself up for months and Johann, rather than question his why girlfriend pretends she isn’t living with an Ex self-sealed in the basement like a belligerent Occupy Boston protester off his meds, moves in with her too. They pretend together like Robert isn’t there. My point is that in a world with Ariel Castros and Howard Hughes’s, “weird” has a definition that stretches to accommodate many an oddball act, safe or deranged. Dog Paddle puts into mind entries on the broad end of the weird spectrum and places them in the “normal” category. It’s amazing what the thinking mind will accept given immersion.
Dog Paddle begins well (despite some smooshy diction in the group lines) and builds to a understated but powerful end. Ben-Aharon’s approach though the monologues and scenes is admirable, pacing consistently solid. His cast takes the trauma of Retro Finger’s oddity in stride. Their presentation is realistic. Their characters are blindly unaware of their own indecencies. It’s startling.
The set design by Larry Sousa is womb-like; comforting and close. It isn’t until it’s too late that we realize we are trapped in it.
Retro Finger has given us a good show. Bridge Rep has done an great job with a strange play. This experimental piece with its use of foley and pantomime isn’t for everyone but, at 55 minutes, it doesn’t have to be. Go explore unusual theatre.
Lastly, I was reminded of this SNL sketch while watching Dog Paddle. Imagine that the part of Wayne is played by the audience. Remove the funny. That’s what Dog Paddle is like.