“Battle of Black and Dogs” Ends Yale Season

by Tom Holehan

So the Yale Repertory Theatre has decided to conclude their 2009-2010 season with a warm and winning romantic comedy guaranteed to send everyone home on a happy cloud of sheer bliss.  NOT.  This is Yale Rep, folks.  Bernard-Marie Koltes’ audience-divider of a play, “Battle of Black and Dogs”, is the selected closer here reminding us that this is still the only theatre in Connecticut that doesn’t quite give a damn whether you enjoy yourself or not.
      
Set in and around an African construction site run by an unnamed foreign company, “Battle of Black and Dogs” begins as a sort-of mystery when Alboury (Albert Jones) arrives at the workplace to collect the remains of his brother who was recently killed on the job. The manager, Horn (Andrew Robinson), assures him his company is doing everything it can to find the cause of this “accident” and that the man’s body will be delivered soon.  Horn then discusses the problem with one of his engineers, Cal (Tommy Schrider), who has more than a casual acquaintance with the dead man.  Also on site is Horn’s young fiancé, Leone (Tracy Middendorf), who has just arrived in Africa and stays close to her room.

What follows is over two hours (without intermission) of power plays, cultural cross-purposes, casual seduction, corruption, a fecal-covered torso, racism, bloody violence, self-mutilation, full-frontal male nudity and lots and lots of endless speeches about communication, the evils of corporate power and class structure.  At least, I think that’s what it might have been about.  Truthfully, Mr. Koltes’ play is such an adventurous, non-stop polemic of ideas and images some audiences will no doubt be scratching their heads (or dozing) long before the half-way mark.

What this “Battle” does feature is a terrific ensemble of four truly dedicated actors under the no-holds-barred direction of Robert Woodruff.  Mr. Robinson, who may best be recalled as the giggling psycho on the other end of Clint Eastwood’s gun in the original “Dirty Harry”, is particularly good as a man who has bought into the role of his company with dire results.  Mr. Schrider’s twitchy, schizophrenic Cal, Mr. Jones’ dignified Alboury and Ms. Middendorf’s delicate, troubled Leone are also all first-rate.  But to what end?  The play will prove a talky endurance test for most theatergoers and the numerous blackouts – which seem unnecessarily long here – only add to the play’s suffocating embrace.

The strange, minimal scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez employs bedroom quarters located in the theatre’s orchestra pit which can’t easily be viewed by much of the audience.  Stephen Strawbridge’s expressive lighting and especially Chad Raines’ ominous sound design add effectively to the baffling events unfolding on stage.  To the theatre’s credit, they have probably had the single-best season of all the regionals this year.  If it means that a “Battle of Black and Dogs” is included in the mix, so be it.

"Battle of Black and Dogs” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through May 8th.  For further information and tickets reservations call the box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning April 28, 2010

 

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