Fifteen Dogs at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto 2023: REVIEW

Cast of Fifteen Dogs at Crow's Theatre, photo Dahlia Katz 2429
Cast of Fifteen Dogs at Crow's Theatre, photo Dahlia Katz 2429

Fifteen Dogs at Crow’s Theatre opened the popular Leslieville theatre’s 2023 winter season. After reading AndrĂ© Alexis’s Giller-Prize-winning novel Fifteen Dogs, I was extremely curious to see how Crow’s Theatre would create the world premier stage production. Adapted and directed by Marie Farsi, the play, as indicated by the title, features actors playing the roles of 15 dogs, as well as a few humans. The actors each play three or four roles. In order to clarify who is who, there is a table on set with 15 figurine dogs representing the dog characters. I found this somewhat helpful in identifying the characters and fortunately, (and I hope I’m not letting the dog out of the bag here), several of the dogs do not survive for long so the task of identification becomes easier.

Hermes and Apollo are gathered at the oldest bar in Toronto: (I hope you didn’t have to google it) the Wheat Sheaf Tavern! The gods discuss whether dogs could be happier if they could think and speak like humans. They make a bet and grant the ability to reason and speak to dogs at a Shaw Street animal clinic. Since they are now blessed with human intelligence, the dogs escape to High Park where they form their own society. The dogs, however, learn that survival may mean it’s every dog for himself and face the same challenges as humans in their battle for leadership, trust of others, individual expression of freedom and curbing extreme emotions.

Cast of Fifteen Dogs at Crow's Theatre, photo Dahlia Katz 2429
Cast of Fifteen Dogs at Crow’s Theatre, photo Dahlia Katz 2429

Although I enjoyed the book, this is a rare instance where the play was better than the book! This is due to the wonderful characterization of the animals: the actors make realistic barking and growling sounds, pace nervously across the stage, lift their legs to pee, and to the delight of the audience, walk in circles before lying down.

Be forewarned: this is no light work. References to animal cruelty will no doubt disturb sensitive souls and/or animal lovers (*raises hand). Further, the heavy question the play asks is whether humans are superior to animals since the former have language and reasoning – I would argue that anyone who has owned a dog knows they can be exceptional communicators – perhaps this is why Alexis has the poodle Majnoun teaching English to another dog. This question is further investigated in the play in the depiction of human kindness and mistreatment of animals and the steadfast loyalty of man’s best friend.

Tom Rooney shines as the philosophical Majnoun and in a hilarious turn as Randy, the shaggy, ex-hippy Leslieville-living boyfriend of Clare. Laura Condlin infuses her role as Nira with warmth and compassion to demonstrate the close bond she has with Majnoun.

Mirabella Sundar Singh is extremely credible as the formidable God Hermes through her regal bearing and elocution. Peter Fernandes as Benjy uses his body language to great comic effect while wagging his tail and rolling over.

A vessel of kinetic energy, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Prince prances and jumps in jerky, unpredictable movements, perfectly mimicking an excited dog. The actor’s incredibly powerful voice, showcased in poetic speeches, command attention. Further, Jackman-Torkoff demonstrates his considerable range as Miguel, the bookish husband of Nira.

Julie Fox’s minimalist set features several rocks, a fire hydrant, a dog bed and a patch of grass, which later supports a couch. Without fancy adornments, the focus is centrally on the dog characters. The spartan set also gives the actors space to move erratically as dogs do. Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell’s understated lighting further creates attention solely on the the actors. The single lightbulb hanging over Benjy’s head and which is quickly extinguished perfectly symbolizes the aloneness of his final days.

Don’t miss this innovative production from Crow’s Theatre! I’ve heard from the dog’s mouth that performances are selling out fast!

Fifteen Dogs at Crow’s Theatre is running until February 12, 2023. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Run time is 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission. Purchase tickets online or at the Box Office. Crow’s Theatre is located at 345 Carlaw Avenue.

You may be interested in reading, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo Opens at Crow’s Theatre: REVIEW“.