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Theater Review:

"DOGS BARKING" at Profiles Theatre

BY LUCIA MAURO

A different sort of "custody battle" ensues in Richard Zajdlic’s "Dogs Barking," receiving its U.S. premiere at Profiles Theatre. On the surface, the play chronicles a London couple’s painful break up and vicious sparring over who can lay claim to their jointly-leased flat. But Neil and Alexandria – the pair at the core of this futile fight – are really trying to reclaim each other and the tender, unencumbered attraction they shared early in their relationship.

The playwright wisely adds a series of sub-plots exploring Alexandria’s tense ties to her wealthy but frustrated sister Vicky; the lonely confusion of Neil’s reliable friend Ray; and all of the characters’ underlying – and gnawing -- dissatisfaction.

Profiles Theatre, known for its visceral but heartfelt stagings that often end in a punching match, does not veer from its fiery style with "Dogs Barking." But, under Ken Mitten’s measured direction, this production taps into the anguished longing behind these characters’ stalwart facades. When violence erupts, it’s both cathartic and devastating. A symbiotically connected ensemble also plays up its performance strengths, making this one of Profiles’ most dramatically consistent and emotionally powerful productions.

Joe Jahraus’ cozy kitchen-sink set, paired with Sara Maddox’s sophisticated costume design, add a stylish intimacy to the staging.

"Dogs Barking" begins with Neil employing manipulative tactics in order to worm his way back into Alexandria’s apartment – with the ulterior motive of gradually getting rid of her things and taking over. But his true feelings for her seep in and, ultimately, Neil harbors hope that things will return to normal. They broke up after Neil had an affair with a co-worker. Now Alexandria is involved with a well-to-do man she’s not quite sure she loves – even though she’s carrying his child.

When her sister Vicky attempts to help her, more sordid motivations arise. Vicky is something of a Iago personality who subtly tries to dominate Alexandria and turn Neil against her sister. Vicky is also struggling with her own sham of a marriage and eventually wins our sympathy as much as Neil does in the end.

Throughout all of the domestic upheaval, Neil’s shy divorced friend Ray is a compassionate anchor who also wants to find an understanding partner. His is a very touching story about low self-esteem and the devastating results of unchecked kindness.

Joe Jahraus who, in the past, has sometimes been miscast, proves to be one of the play’s most believable and multidimensional characters. As Ray, he balances twinges of self-pity with empowering resolve and sincerity. Another stunning performance is delivered by Jenna Rabideaux as Vicky, who could easily come across as a vampish cartoon. But Rabideaux endows her with a tragic, unspoken heartache that reveals more about Vicky’s anguish than her bitchy retorts.
Jahraus and Rabideaux are perfect counterpoints: he the quiet, reliable friend who longs for idyllic romance; she the passionate, domineering woman who just wants peace and respect in her life.

These almost musical approaches to character development are strongly embodied in Darrell W. Cox as Neil and Sara Maddox as Alexandria. Cox tempers Neil’s abrasive bullying with a piercing sense of regret and irretrievable tenderness. Maddox subtly unveils Alexandria’s sweetness and need for companionship beneath her proud and dignified disposition. Together their quiet, cutting cruelties give way to moments of simple, synergistic joy.

By the wrenching finale, audiences experience the indescribable loss of these characters’ true selves and dreams. They seem to give up a part of themselves as they relinquish each other – and move forward into the realm of compromise and regret.•

"Dogs Barking" has been extended through January 27 at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: $18-$22. Call 773-549-1815.

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