59E59’s “Day of the Dog” lacks bite

courtesy of 59E59 Theaters

There is a knock at the door, and a Russian man enters a stranger’s home in order to examine a dog named Carrot. But is it the dog he has come to see, or its surrounding family? Playwright Daniel Damiano’s “Day of the Dog” provides an interesting psychological look at one family’s problems and how these problems could be adding to the aggressive nature of their dog.

“Day of the Dog” begins as a comedy, with small and somewhat funny problems being realized, until the second act when more serious things are unearthed between Paul (Steve Isom) and Julianne (Michelle Hand).

Isom’s transformation through the play — from a weak male partner to a strong, overpowering force — is incredible. He is fully believable in the role, with every action seeming justified even while the character is shocking and unpredictable.

Hand transforms as well, but in the opposite direction. Her metamorphosis from powerful matriarch to vulnerable victim is fully fleshed out, and she and Isom play off each other extremely well.

Meanwhile Jason Grubbe, who plays the Russian Canine Relations Specialist, acts as a buoy between husband and wife. A neutral party, he is a vessel through which the audience can more clearly see the true nature of these two people.

Both Christie Johnston’s set and Teresa Doggett’s costumes further aid in this play about a family who desperately wants to be perfect and a family that really is not. The set is bright yellow, with matching furniture and tranquil photos. The costumes for Paul and Julianne are bright pastels, as if they are presenting their happiness and togetherness to the rest of the world.

However, the characters presented in “Day of the Dog” are not memorable or surprising. Paul and Julianne are capable of terrible deeds, but when they confess their crimes it is not moving or compelling. By the end, Paul and Julianne had touched on almost everything that could possibly go wrong with a marriage — from alienation to overworking to abuse — and eventually it grew tiresome for the theatergoers.

But the wonderful thing about Damiano’s script is that the audience is never quite sure whom to support. Both Paul and Julianne are to blame and nothing is black and white. Instead of defining a bully and a victim, Damiano presents two people who are equally responsible for the decline of their marriage, and lays all of their problems out for the audience to see.

In a way, “Day of the Dog” is like a game of tug-of-war — there are little shifts between two people pulling with all of their might. It is only at the end that it is apparent who will fall, and whether they will choose to get back up.

“Day of the Dog” is playing at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., through March 30.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 25 print edition. Sarah Nichols is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]

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