PROVO — Off the Map is BYU‘s international theater festival that brings in new thought-provoking work from all over the world. I was excited to see New Owner, performed by an Australian theater company, The Last Great Hunt. Written by two of the six company members, Arielle Gray and Tim Watts, New Owner is packed full of love, loss, fear, and comfort, as well as a plethora of adorableness.
When I first arrived in the Nelke Theater, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully Adriane Daff, one of the puppeteers, prepared the audience for the show, explaining what was expected of the audience and what to expect throughout. Daff gave everyone permission to express emotions as they came and asked to keep electronic lights off and hidden as the theater would be extremely dark. It was so dark I almost thought my white notepaper was reflecting too much light from the stage, and I worried it would bother people. I ended up writing without looking and moving my finger down the paper to know where to write next, though my chicken scratch was barely legible upon seeing it after.
The story followed a little Maltese through its life of finding ownership, getting lost, making a new friend, and avoiding the dog snatcher. I was almost teary at the end, and each moment tugged at my heart strings throughout. I loved the friend it found, an old Jack Russell terrier that sounded like a Bassett hound (could have been but looked like a Jack Russell). Its little bark of “how” was precious. The company members, Daff, Gray, Watts, Gita Bezard, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, and Chris Isaacs, performed this show, and though I wasn’t sure who did what other than Daff and Gray puppeteering the dogs, everyone had such amazing body language throughout the piece that I hardly noticed the show was all mimed. It was actually relieving to see a work of art with so much sound that didn’t include talking at all.
Daff had such a fun way of making the Maltese look just the way a hyperactive puppy would. The way she moved the dog facing right to left so quickly was just perfect. I loved the whining noises it made, and the comedic timing was well done. I appreciated how realistic the Maltese was and then how sometimes it would jump into some noise or movement that was over the top to add humor, like when it came up to its owner to be petted and would forcefully flop on the floor on its side for a tummy rub with a quick “humff” sound. Daff was able to manipulate the dog’s hind legs and tail with one hand and the front of the dog with another, so the way it ran, played, and even while inching its way up the bed to snuggle on its owner’s heart was terribly cute. Gray played the Jack Russell so well. It was a bit more humorous because of how old she made the dog move and sound. The snoring was realistic, and the difficulty with getting up on the truck to be with the Maltese helped me see how old he was.
They used a projector for the scenery, and it blended in well with the tiny stage in the center where there was a platform or table that they would move the dogs across and that the people would walk on. I loved how they had the projector show a lot of the story, like how the dog could smell the owner’s scent. It showed a pink fume floating from the owner to the dog’s nose. I also liked the use of space in the projector’s screen. One part where the dog was traveling through the drain reminded me of the old Mario game, the dog as the player, jumping and falling to the next level, then running across to jump again.
The music was helpful to keep my emotions engaged. There was ominous music when the dog snatcher showed up, sad music when the Maltese was lost, and bouncy fun music for the friendship scene between the two dogs. The noises of the dog splashing in water and clinking keys were helpful to the story and timed just right. I also enjoyed how the dark theater allowed me to see the show more clearly though I was farther away.
This performance was such an endearing production. Ages 7 and up would love this show and would appreciate the life lessons found throughout. I loved the story line, the characters, and how they interacted. I’d love to see more works done by The Last Great Hunt.