Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains (SummerWorks)

by joel fishbane

Part Chekhov, part Christopher Hampton, Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains is an old fashioned play with a hell of a lot of bite. Written by Anthony MacMahon, a playwriting member of the Soulpepper Academy, Wild Dogs uses the 2011 Moscow Riots as a backdrop for exploring the lives of three young Russians lost in a city that, as one character describes it, is just a body on live support – a heart without a brain. Fortunately, the play is nothing like Russia. Wild Dogs has both a heart and a brain – and they’re working at full steam.

Director Joanne Williams keeps things moving as the story quickly unfolds. Pyotr (Victor Dolhai) lusts after his roommate Mikhail (Jonathan Koensgen), who in turn lusts for Anya (Ewa Wolniczek), a nursing student who supplements her income through internet porn. It’s a simple recipe derived from a dozen different plays but that doesn’t take away from its effect: a good cook can do wonders with a simple list of ingredients and MacMahon is as good as they come.

It’s easy to signal out Victor Dolhai who imbues Pyotr with so much energy that he threatens to run away with the play; a magnetic actor, he plays with all of his lines, creating a naturalism that is almost infectious. Dolhai is easily matched by Koensgen, who delivers an understated performance as a man whose emotions are all inside; as for Wolzniczek, she’s equally sharp as a girl who, like so many women in Chekhov, just wants to get the hell out of Moscow any way she can.

There’s no spectacle here: this is just a well-written play ably performed by a talented cast. That’s probably what makes it so refreshing. It’s a deceptively simple play that isn’t afraid to let the characters take control of the stage. Although it touches on politics, Wild Dogs is more about the people of Russia than Russia itself. It’s the sort of play that  regional theatres would love to snap up; every single one of them should. 

Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains by Anthony MacMahon plays at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival until August 18

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