Everyone in Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains (playing the Scotiabank Studio as part of SummerWorks) is trapped; in a shitty apartment, in undesirable careers, in each other’s company, in hospital beds, in addiction, in alcoholism, but above all in a crumbling, smothering country which rejects the very idealism that people of their age and status are meant to embody. In this universe, success is given to those who keep their heads down, refuse to ask questions, and pay the right bribes.
In their own ways, all three characters rebel against this norm. And all three fail.
This isn’t a fun show, but it’s told well enough, and with enough clarity of vision, to be worthwhile.
I was worried for a second. At times, this play runs dangerously close to movie-of-the-week fodder (Remember, Kids: Winners Don’t Do Drugs!), and even a talented cast can’t rescue some of the script’s more wooden lines. (I don’t mind telling you that I actually cringed on one or two occasions: “My profession pays the bills!” “Yes, but at what cost?!”) I also stumbled through an an irritating number of Wildean asides, where the action pauses for the sake of slipping a pithy-but-irrelevant line into the show.
But these are all matters of polish and finesse, and the show’s main arc works beautifully. The unsympathetic Pyotr (Victor Dolhai) dominates early scenes, slowly giving way to flatmate Anya (Ewa Wolniczek) and especially Mikhail (Jonathan Koensgen), who spends the early scenes as a third wheel, but might as well be the only person on stage towards the end. All three actors do impressive character work; Wolniczek’s sex worker walks the fine line between idealism and drudgery, Dolhai’s Pyotr is exactly as conflicted as he ought to be, while Koensgen’s range as an actor is on fine display as his stage presence expands and contracts like an accordion.
Designer Joe Pagnan’s set is a tremendous gift to the show; one of the best parts of the evening involved a train of thought which ran, approximately, “I wonder why the set is all jagged and cracke—oh. Oh, that’s good…” Fight director Simon Fon also deserves credit for getting the cast in far more credible and fluid shape than most SummerWorks shows which attempt combat.
But for all the praise I’d like to lavish on the cast and creatives, the real talent on display here is the director and playwright (Joanne Williams and Anthony McMahon, respectively), who have tuned this play until it’s just-so. Entertaining enough to draw you in, but not so much that you stop taking it seriously. Violent enough to seem real and gritty, but not fantastical or gratuitous. Dark enough to sap away at the human soul, but not smothering or destructive. The quiet dread at the heart of this show takes real talent to execute, and the company are more than equal to the task.
The subject is fascinating, the actors are wonderful, and the show is well worth your time.
- Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains plays through August 18th at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre. (6 Noble St.)
- All tickets $15. Money-saving passes are available. For more information, and to order online, see the festival website.
- Remaining performances: Sunday August 11, 2:00 pm; Monday August 12, 9:30 pm; Wednesday August 14, 2:00 pm; Friday August 16, 4:30 pm; Sunday August 18, 4:30 pm.
Photograph of Jonathan Koensgen (Mikhail) and Ewa Wilniczek (Anya) by Kevin McAlary.