SALT LAKE CITY — I never know what to expect when I go to watch a production geared towards a young audience. I’ve had several opportunities in the last couple of months to review a few productions for young audiences, and Art Dog, adapted for the stage by John Olive, directed by Penelope Caywood, and performed by the Salt Lake Acting Company, has been one of my favorites so far. Everything, from the sets, lighting, and music, to the costume, acting, and dancing were well done and enjoyable for audiences of all ages.
Art Dog is based on the book by Thacher Hurd. It follows the tale of Arthur, a guard dog at the Dogopolis Art Mueseum. By day he is a guard dog and by night he is Art Dog, who paint the town, literally. One night the Mona Woofa painting is stolen from the art museum and Arthur becomes the main suspect. With some hilarious characters, lots of imagination, and a couple of chase scenes this show keeps a child’s attention.
As I walked into the performance space I found a cartooned set (designed by S. Glenn Brown) that was right out of a children’s book. Everything had black or white outlines creating an illustrated effect. The set had a cityscape background and was primarily composed of three wall on wheels. One side of the set of walls formed the outside of brick buildings while the other side formed the interior of an art museum. I loved that the colors used were bright and cheery. The museum walls were each a blend of two bright colors surrounded by a vivid purple trim and decorated by art hung in colorful frames. The artwork was familiar famous painting that had been “dog”-ified. Dog ears and noses appeared on the works of the well known paintings. Lighting was used to highlight each painting as it does in any art gallery. The overall effect of the set was simple and very effective. Lighting (design by Spencer Brown) added to the design by revealing surprises painted in blacklight paint. Lighting also helped the audience to imagine Art Dog painting on the city walls.
The line work used to created a cartoon effect on the set was carried over into the costume design by Linda L. Brown as well. It helped give consistency to the overall design. The majority of the costumes were made up of black slacks and t-shirts. The t-shirts had other shirts, like security guard and police officer uniforms, printed onto them. This continued the illustrated effect while allowing the small cast of four to quickly make costume changes. Each character had dog ears, a tail, fur cuffs, and a collar with a dog tag.
With a small cast it’s hard not to mention everyone, but I really wanted to give attention to a couple of the performers. Art Dog, also known as Arthur, was played by Alexis Baigue. Baigue had a smiley, calm demeanor about him. He was the kind of dog everyone likes, a bit playful but well behaved. While other dogs had more lines, Arthur was often quiet but had a knowing smile and sparkle in his eye. I loved the dance he performed to greet and say goodbye to each painting at the start and end of his work day. Although this production was about a dog, the performance was the perfect blend of not being in my face with dog actions, but it had some fun consistent movements so I wouldn’t forget that I was watching dog characters and not people characters.
Jenessa Bowen, who played Thief 2 and The Chief of Police, was amazing at capturing a dog’s characterization, and each dog she played had a different personality. I particullary enjoyed her thief dog. This dog was the excited, but not at the top of the obedience school class. As soon as Bowen entered the stage she owned her character and sold it to the audience without having to resort to barking and panting. As soon as she came onto stage I could hear little kids giggling throughout the audience, and I couldn’t help but giggle myself.
Another part of this production that I enjoyed was the use of pantomime and dance to help tell the story. As a former educator I highly appreciate when productions for young audiences show their audiences the stories and don’t just tell the story. This production did a good job of that. From pantomiming the museum door to Arthur’s dance to greet each painting, there was a story being told physically and not just verbally. Young audiences can get lost in words, but they understand body language.
This show is a fun night out for the family, and even the youngest audience member can enjoy it. Children of all ages are welcome at this production, and adults can enjoy the show as well. As with any production for young audiences the story is a little cheesy, but judging from the children’s laughter I heard throughout the night it was well done.