For nimble minds seeking a more cerebrally challenging alternative to the commercialized platitudes that tend to crop up around Earth Day, the Theatre@Boston Court's West Coast premiere of "My Barking Dog" could be just the ticket.
From a decidedly idiosyncratic perspective steeped in surreal satire, Cleveland-based playwright Eric Coble's cautionary environmentalist parable explores widening fissures in a man-made reality increasingly dissociated from nature. It takes longer than necessary, however, for the point — and its resulting emotional impact — to land.
The play's two human characters, residents of a big-city apartment complex, are epitomes of modern alienation. Introverted, strait-laced Melinda (Michelle Azar), welcomes her solitary night shifts at a printing plant. For her, the sterile factory is a place of worship; she fantasizes about becoming one with the machines she operates.
Toby (Ed F. Martin) is a genial, chronically unemployed former office manager who spends "perpetual Sundays" nervously circling his apartment in search of good cell reception to check the status of his futile job applications.
Director Michael Michetti's clarity and focus leave no doubt about the extent of both characters' comically antisocial repression, though the alternating monologue format of the script's first third poses a pacing challenge. The piece finds surer footing when Melinda and Toby finally meet as a result of the play's unseen but transformative third character — a coyote foraging for food on their porches.
Playwright Coble puts the increasingly prevalent urban encroachment by coyotes to excellent allegorical use. The nocturnal predator reconnects Melinda and Toby to their bottled-up wild impulses, to increasingly absurdist lengths that upend legal and even biological boundaries.
Viscerally driving home the play's message about the inevitable reassertion of the natural order, the spectacular metamorphosis in Tom Buderwitz's scenic design is truly a marvel to behold.