Battle of Black and Dogs -- Pardon My French

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

French drama is different from ours in that it is far more intellectual than emotional.  The result is that very often when you leave the theater you aren't certain about what you have seen or the intent of the playwright.  This is certainly true of the current production at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Battle of Black and Dogs whose title proves as enigmatic as the play.

Set in a remote corner of western Africa, anywhere from Senegal to Nigeria as indicated in the program, Battle takes place at a construction compound that is intriguingly created on stage by Riccardo Hernandez with a translucent upper stage on top of what looks like a basement where from time to time actors appear and leave but in which nothing apparently takes place. The central part of the story focuses on the attempt by Alboury (Albert Jones) an African man, to claim the body of his brother, a worker, who has died under mysterious circumstances so the family can provide appropriate burial.

The older site manager, a white man, Horn (Andrew Robinson) in a sense stalls the process during which the audience learns that the brother was killed and that the body has been disposed of. There are a few other branches off the main plot that include Horn's young fiancée Léone (Tracy Middendorf) who has just arrived from Paris and a white engineer who works on the construction project, Cal (Tommy Schrider). As the play progresses we discover that Cal was instrumental in the worker’s death and much is made of his attempt to recover the body.

Cal cannot understand why Horn has brought his young fiancée to the construction site, especially since the construction company is about to quit the project.  Léone, however, soon becomes an interest of Cal's, and she also has a brief fling with Alboury.  Through these secondary aspects, pieces of the plot begin to unfold.

Before it's all over people are killed and disfigured.

What are we supposed to take away from Battle of Black and Dogs directed by Robert Woodruff by French playwright, Bernard-Marie Koltès, who died at age 41 in 1989, in a translation by Michael Attias who also composed the music? What does the title mean?

The production will certainly confuse audiences and perhaps even divide them between those who are drawn to the intriguing plot and those who are bored and annoyed for waiting the intermissionless two hours and 10 minutes for something meaningful to emerge.

Maybe we need a stronger diet of French drama.

Battle of Black and Dogs is at the Yale Repertory Theater, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven, through May 8. For tickets and information call the box office at 203-432-1234.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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