There’s a lot going on in Dogs of War. Assembled from scenes out of eight Shakespearean histories, together with new text by David Blixt, it makes use of projection, a live camera, sixteen actors, a chorus and over forty characters. It aims to re-examine “representations of war via bodies of the common people.”
Intense, intimate scenes are undermined by unruly actors sitting in the margins. If the occasional fidget might be excusable, exchanging whispers is not.
This is a worthy purpose,and at times the play achieves it. “No hope to have redress?” asks Joan la Pucelle (Amanda Vitiello) of the spirits who abandon her shortly before her capture and death. “My bodyshall pay recompense, if you will grant my suit!” The scene’s significance is evident even without background knowledge, and it is thought-provokingly placed beside other episodes treating the uses and abuses of commoners’ bodies. It is also carried by the performance: Vitiello’s Joan, like Jesse Jensen’s Falstaff, is of a notably high watermark alongside some rather indifferent acting.
The production, fundamentally, attempts too much. Managing a cast so large is especially difficult when they must remain onstagethroughout; here, intimate scenes are undermined by unruly actors sitting in the margins. If the occasional fidget might be excusable, exchanging whispers is not. The costuming is too heterogeneous to be effective, from a pink boa to track suits, running shoes, and a leather jacket. And the projection – surely an opportunity to take pressure off transitions — is bewilderingly used. Artsy, inchoate film, including a lengthy section focused on a hand scrabbling in dirt, risks ridicule; unwarranted footage of a nuclear strike risks offensiveness.
Then there is the difficulty of merely following along. Elizabethan verse is challenging at the best of times; where most Shakespeare productions benefit from the audience’s prior knowledge, Dogs of War dispenses with linear narrative and leaves us making up lost ground. It ends on a fine note, thanks again to Jesse Jensen and Hannah Sharafian: an affecting sequence whose clarity and conviction make emotional engagement possible. Elsewhere, it simply isn’t.