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my dad, my dog: between worlds

andrew templeton

Andrew Templeton is Vancouver-based writer and playwright who's had plays produced in Vancouver and London.

Sherry J Yoon, My Dad, My Dog, Boca del Lupo Sherry J Yoon, My Dad, My Dog, Boca del Lupo
A tall, blank screen dominates Boca del Lupo’s My Dad, My Dog. The screen fills with a variety of images, some animated, some magnified sets and props manipulated live by Jay White, who stands on one side of the stage, wearing an apron like a modern day Geppetto. The images are sharp and effective, forming clever backdrops to the action, with White’s monstrously magnified hand appearing occasionally to open doors and move furniture. It looks great. And anyone who grew up in Canada with the Friendly Giant will no doubt smile. Although the projections were high-tech there was something old fashioned about the whole artifice. The machinery White operates reminded me of a doll-sized opera house. This sense of 19th century stage-craft was nicely complemented by the live piano playing of Alicia Hansen who resides on the opposite side of the stage from White.

Before seeing the My Dad, My Dog, a number of people told me they found it charming or delightful. While the imagery created by White gives the show a lyrical and at times child-like softness, this work is steely at its core. Even the central narrative conceit embodies this tension. Sherry J Yoon, one of the creators and performers, appears at the top of the show as herself to explain what inspired the piece: she became convinced that her dog was her father reincarnated. While this might appear an absurdist notion—at least to Western ears—it evokes a painful story of death and, as Yoon alludes, the fate of the soul of a violent man. Precisely what the steel core of My Dad, My Dog is remains a mystery to me, a blank, and maybe this is appropriate.

The play is set in one of the last blank spots on the map: North Korea, a world we only glimpse through government controlled images. This is neatly played out when one of the characters attempts to take photos. We see what the foreigner sees through his viewfinder projected onto the screen: animated drawings of the rough and tumble of North Korean life. The translator moves the Westerner’s arm so that a sanitised, acceptable image is framed. The camera flashes and the drawing is replaced by a photo. The photos, which already have an inhuman bleakness to them, are made even more ominous. This filling in blank screens with controlled images set against what our imagination creates is a central motif of the work and one that is played with very effectively.

Yoon, who was born in Korea, tells us about the numerous cousins she has spread over both sides of the border separating North from South Korea. She plays an unnamed translator, an alternative version of herself had she grown up in North Korea. She portrays this character with a remarkable level of formality and control: another blank slate. Her interactions with two unnamed Canadians, a bird-fancier from Vancouver (James Fagan Tait) and a filmmaker from Canada’s east coast (Billy Marchenski) are filled with frustrating literalness. Everything is taken at face value. The translator in fact does no translating. Her job is to speak English to foreigners so that they understand what they can’t do. Her blankness is only really broken through her relationship with an animated dog. The other two characters also have their familiars, the Tait character has a pigeon, the filmmaker monsters, specifically King Kong who looks through his hotel room at one point. The Tait character, whose bird obsession makes him a self-imposed outsider, is a nice counterpoint to the state-sanctioned translator. The filmmaker’s relation to the other characters is not so clear and his reason for being in North Korea—to make a monster movie—stretches incredulity, even in a piece that stars an animated dog. I suspect the filmmaker character was created to underscore the theme of blank screens and the creation of images, but it doesn’t quite hang together for me.

The relationship between the performers and the projected images has something to do with the blank screen itself. This is most obviously illustrated in two scenes set in a restaurant. White draws the restaurant for us while the scenes unfold. We watch random lines form recognisable shapes of tables and diners. Towards the end of the scene the filmmaker notes that people in the restaurant are looking at them. Direct interaction between the actors and the images on the screen is limited and therefore becomes pointed: the translator engaging with her dog and the bird-fancier releasing a pigeon. In these moments, it is almost as if the actors are puncturing the blankness of the screen, using their familiars to achieve this transition to an unknown other side. This somehow relates to the motif of reincarnation and the cycle of creation and recreation. The almost too sweet lyricism of the last scene—a released bird making its way across impossible odds back to Vancouver—is cut short by a moment of cruel humour. The transition between worlds, of crossing over into blankness is not without its danger.

Boca del Lupo, My Dad, My Dog, created by Sherry J Yoon, Jay White, director Jay Dodge, performers Billy Marchenski, James Fagan Tait, Sherry J Yoon, animation and scenography Jay White, music Alicia Hansen, costumes Reva Quem, lighting Jeff Harrison, Jay Dodge; Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, Vancouver, Jan 25-26, Jane 29-Feb 2; PuSh International Festival of Performing Arts, Jan 16 - Feb 3

Andrew Templeton is Vancouver-based writer and playwright who's had plays produced in Vancouver and London.

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 6

© Andrew Templeton; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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