Red Dog Howls

by Michael Dale

Sophie’s choice was a casual coin flip compared with decision forced upon a young mother in Alexander Dinelaris’ drama recalling the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide, Red Dog Howls.  As a 91-year-old grandmother enduring life with the memory of a horrific confrontation with three sadistic Turks, Kathleen Chalfant gives an extraordinarily convincing performance balancing pain and dark humor, climaxing with an agonizing scene where she reveals a sickening secret.  But Chalfant’s performance, certainly worth remembering when award season comes along, is all the production has to recommend.

Set in 1980s New York, the heavy-handed text begins with a writer named Michael (Alfredo Narciso) informing us that, “There are sins, from which we can never be absolved.  Sins, so terrible, so... unimaginable, that if, or when, we finally acknowledge the depths of our complicity, we will be changed forever.”

By the evening’s end we’ve discovered the nature of his sin, as Michael narrates a tale from his recent past involving a cryptic message left to him by his now deceased father and the discovery of a grandmother he thought had passed on long ago.

Chalfant’s Rose is a crusty, old world sort who feels compelled to pass on her Armenian heritage and family history to the stranger who turns out to be her grandson, but only at a proper pace and never mentioning the grave secret until he’s ready.

Florencia Lozano plays Michael’s pregnant wife, Gabby, whose presence is more symbolic than dramatic.

Director Ken Rus Schmoll’s production is filled with stilted pauses and Chalfant is the only actor who finesses around the sluggish staging, but the play itself, with its declarative, fact-filled narration and thin characters, is the primary reason the evening is emotionally empty.

Photo of Kathleen Chalfant by Joan Marcus.

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After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.