Telling stories of dogs and gods

Anecdotes are one sort of story.

For example I heard that in 2020 COVID caused a surge in canine adoptions.

Later I heard there was a flood in reverse, dogs being given up when people changed their minds.

No I don’t know how true the anecdotes might be, only that Erika and I again have chosen to bring a rescue into our home. Sam was an older dog we welcomed back in 2019, who passed away back in April 2022.

If Sam seems a bit blurry it’s because she’s actually reflected in the surface of the piano.

Barkley is an eight month old beagle who has lived in at least four homes so far. Hopefully we’re his last.

Barkley: please note he already had the name Barkley before he became a Barcza

As I ease into the role of doggie daddy with Barkley I’m extra sensitive to current canine discourse in our society. In post-pandemic social media dogs and cats hold a special place, helping us cope with stress, bringing light into lives that otherwise would be darker.

By “canine discourse“ we would expect to mean humans conversing about dogs, rather than conversations of dogs talking to other dogs. But come to think of it, there is some of that. In a few days Erika and I look forward to seeing the Crow’s Theatre production of Fifteen Dogs, adapted by Marie Farsi, from André Alexis’s 2015 novel of the same name.

A play adaptation is another sort of story.

I decided to read the original, the Giller Prize winning novel, to sample the story from André Alexis in order to have some idea of the adaptation.

The Crow’s website summarizes / promotes the play with these words, that are apt for the novel as well.

Is it possible to die happy?
That is the question the gods Hermes and Apollo ponder over a beer at the Wheatsheaf Tavern in Toronto. They make a bet, grant 15 dogs human consciousness, and watch from above as the pups discover the poetry and the pitfalls of complex thought and emotion

If you’ve read the book you likely don’t need persuading. You surely like the book if you read it, but like me you may wonder: how can the novel be turned into a play?

As a fan of opera and film I find the process of taking something from one medium (like a play) and turning it into something for another (such as live theatre) endlessly fascinating. My mom and I have watched and discussed several different film or tv versions of Jane Austen novels. Some people –like my mom—prefer an approach that errs on the side of inclusivity, leaving out nothing. So of course my mom far prefers the 16 hour Pride and Prejudice that she watched via PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre to any of the 2 hour film versions.

Because I was reading online using the Toronto Public Library interface I was told that I read the novel in about seven hours (mostly yesterday and finishing today). Imagine if it took that long in the theatre(!). Even Die Meistersinger (Wagner’s longest) doesn’t take that long. I’m sure the Crow’s Theatre adaptation won’t approach that massive size.

But thinking about that, the process of going from one medium to another, you have to recognize that this always entails some sort of trade-off. If you include everything –as they did in that PBS experience—your audience has to sit through 16 hours of television. Sometimes that might seem like a good idea but in Hollywood they usually shorten the story down to something more commercially viable, for fear of scaring off the customers. Marie Farsi at Crow’s Theatre likely will make a similar sort of adjustment.

There are also trade-offs in the media themselves. In a book I can go back to re-read what I missed, especially in the first part where you’re still getting to know the names of the characters. In a theatre they don’t do that, although they may build in some repetition to help you.

In a book my imagination has freedom to run wild. Once you put the character in front of me that may limit what I can imagine. Chances are they know that and will approach the story with that in mind.

Music sometimes is helpful if there is something verging away from the real towards the symbolic, the unreal or the spiritual.

If I’m reading about dogs my mind may readily jump to the images in a way that I might resist in live theatre. I recall that when we saw the caged tiger near the beginning of the play Bengal Tiger, also at Crow’s Theatre, it was a female actor standing inside the cage. I’m guessing that the 15 dogs will in some sense be portrayed by humans, not dogs. There are many ways one can imagine doing this.

In the meantime I’m listening to Barkley, with the novel resonating in my head. I believe we are attracted to certain genres of storytelling because of how they fit into our lives. We watch romances while contemplating the meaning of love, and when we’re loving our dogs, a story like this one resonates.

As with George Orwell’s Animal Farm or Wes Anderson’s film Isle of Dogs, Alexis’s novel is an apologue, a kind of allegory that uses animals to illustrate a moral point for us. One of the things I love about this new book is its subtlety. I cried like a baby at the end, surprised by how strongly I was moved. In a work such as the Orwell or the Anderson, politics seems to be the author’s allegorical focus. For me Alexis is chasing something much subtler that I wouldn’t presume to summarize so glibly. Perhaps it’s the nature of art and happiness.

I’m hopeful that the play can capture some of the magic of a book that I enjoyed so much.

This entry was posted in Animals, domestic & wild, Books & Literature, Cinema, video & DVDs, Dance, theatre & musicals, My mother and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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