Theater: Play ‘Red Dog Howls’ Is Absorbing Drama


The Daily News Online
Sept 30 2012

NEW YORK (AP) – Some memories are difficult to recall, yet impossible
to forget.

The primal howl that arises near the end of the disturbing drama,
“Red Dog Howls,” caps a magnificent, wrenching performance by Katherine
Chalfant as she concludes a horrific revelation from her character’s
mysterious past.

Playwright Alexander Dinelaris’ searing drama ties Chalfant’s
character, Rose Afratian, to a devastating time in Turkish-Armenian
history. The off-Broadway premiere from the author of “Still Life”
opened Monday night in a well-acted, absorbing production at New York
Theatre Workshop.

Ken Rus Schmoll smoothly directs the cast of three, and keeps the
mood from becoming too melodramatic despite the haunting events that
will be revealed. The narrator Michael (played by Alfredo Narciso)
guides us through the enactment of his 1986 discovery, as a young,
American-born father-to-be, that 91-year-old Rose is a relative he
thought was dead.

Unaware that he had any Armenian blood, Michael sets out to learn the
reasons for the curse that plagued both his father and grandfather,
and discovers some major family secrets along the way.

His pregnant wife Gabriela is portrayed with spunk by a vibrant but
under-utilized Florencia Lozano, who demands an equal relationship
with her husband, although she didn’t get one with the playwright.

Dinelaris leaves her either offstage or sleeping onstage for much of
the play.

Narciso is quite engaging, especially when Michael quizzically tries to
converse with his reticent grandmother in their regular meetings over
the next few months. Narciso maintains a generally measured tone when
narrating, except for portentous opening and closing speeches about
“sins from which we can never be absolved.”

Michael’s preoccupation with visiting Rose and studying Armenian
history and culture at the library strains his marriage, but the main
event is the mystery surrounding Rose. Blunt and demanding in her
speech, Rose has a stern sense of humor that grows on you. Although
she wears a heavy air of perpetual sorrow, Chalfant also adds glimpses
of warmth and a wry delivery that render Rose more appealing. When
Michael tells her he hasn’t prayed in years, she retorts drily,
“Then God will surely be surprised, and he will listen to you.”

As Michael studies Armenian history in library books, he learns about
the Armenian Genocide, relaying to the audience that in the waning days
of the Ottoman Turkish empire, the Turks attempted to “systematically
exterminate the entire Armenian race.” According to his research,
by 1915, “They had starved, beaten, tortured and killed upwards of
one and a half million souls,” including some of his own ancestors.

When Rose finally tells Michael her heart-wrenching personal stories
from that terrible time, she also bequeaths him an unthinkable burden,
with a shocking request that casts a different light on all their
previous interactions.

Dinelaris’ play affectingly both personalizes and illuminates wide
themes, including the lasting psychological damage and guilt that
come with surviving acts of determined and random atrocity.

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