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Dogs of Stage Chew the Scenery

#326

(L–R)Patrena Murray and Sterling K. Brown in "Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)" at the Mark Taper Forum.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Dealing with actors who chew the scenery is an occupational hazard for theatre artists. Occasionally, however, the problem is literal: when a script calls for a canine in a key role. But while it may be challenging to put a dog onstage, it’s more often than not a hit with audiences, including if the dog is played by a human, as in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home From The Wars.

“Odd-See dog comes on, and people realize they’re looking at a dog, and they’re totally delighted,” said director Jo Bonney on the role played by Patrena Murray at the Mark Taper Forum through May 15, 2016. Odd-See, who is described as “the dog with eyes that go this way and that,” brings playfulness and comedy to this American Civil War drama. In his honor, we’ve listed some other famous furry friends who have made names for themselves in the theatre.

1. Sandy—Annie

Everybody loves Sandy, Annie’s faithful canine sidekick who remains at her side from their hard-knock life at the orphanage to the opulence and comfort of Daddy Warbucks’ mansion. When it comes to casting Sandy, productions seem to favor a similar rags-to-riches narrative. The original Broadway Sandy was abused as a puppy and nearly put to death before being rescued by animal trainer William Berloni. Sunny, an adorable shelter mutt turned Broadway star, debuted as Sandy in the 2012 revival of Annie.

2. Porthos—Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland follows playwright J.M. Barrie and the relationship with a widow and her four young sons that inspired him to write Peter Pan. Porthos, Barrie’s dog, was his inspiration for Nana, the four-legged nurse to the Darling children in Peter Pan. The World premiere of Finding Neverland at American Repertory Theater employed actor Thaye Jasperson (who’s currently on Broadway in Hamilton) to play Porthos, while the Broadway version features a pair of real dogs named Jack and Jill who alternate in the role.

3. BruiserLegally Blonde

When Elle Woods, a wealthy California sorority girl, is dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she follows him to Harvard Law School to win him back, accompanied by her Chihuahua BFF Bruiser. Chico, a rehabilitated Chihuahua with a history of biting, played Bruiser in the 2007 Broadway production. In addition to dressing Bruiser in fashionable outfits that match Elle’s, the show requires him to bark his “lines,” which are “translated” by human cast members.

4. The Cavendish family dogs—The Royal Family

The Cavendish family of actors, a parody of the legendary Barrymores of Broadway, are (like a lot of upper class families) devoted to their dogs in this 1927 play about three generations of actresses facing different crossroads. The Ahmanson Theatre’s 2004 production of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s play employed a five-dog company consisting of Puck, Cyrano, Hotspur, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.

5. Candy's dog—Of Mice and Men

Violet, a Pit Bull rescue, stole a vast amount of the show from under the likes of James Franco and Chris O’Dowd during the 2014 Broadway run of Of Mice and Men. The relationship between Candy, an old man, and his dog (played by Violet), parallels the relationship of the two lead characters, George and Lennie.

6. Sylvia—Sylvia

When you love your dog, she becomes almost human to you. In A. R. Gurney’s 1995 play Sylvia, the dog is quite literally a human. Sylvia, a role originated by Sarah Jessica Parker and played on Broadway most recently by Annaleigh Ashford, turns the lives and relationship of a middle-aged couple upside down when she is brought home after being found loose in Central Park. Gurney’s script calls for Sylvia to wear human clothes and translates dog barks into human language (Sylvia’s bark: “Hey-hey-hey-hey!”), which makes for an interesting take on puppy love.

7. BONUS: Wee Thomas—The Lieutenant of Inishmore

The purported murder of a cat named Wee Thomas sets in motion the plot of Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which played the Mark Taper Forum in 2010. Cats are notoriously difficult creatures to share a stage with, so many companies choose to use puppets instead—but Center Theatre Group took the plunge most memorably.

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