First, let's get this straight.Dachshund UN is without doubt the most unusual show I have ever seen. Period.
Here’s the picture. You are seated with 350 others at Harbourfront’s EnWave theatre. The curtain rises and you are confronted with a massive replica of the UN Commission on Human Rights assembly hall in Geneva. There are the usual tiers of microphones, with a delegate seated for each of the 36 countries represented. But there are no humans in sight. Each delegate is in fact a dachshund. You watch the mayhem which follows for fifty minutes, ponder what it all means, probably laugh at the onstage antics and then the curtain comes down. End of show.
If this sounds weird, wacky and wonderful, it is all three.
The creation of Australian sculptor and installation artist Bennett Miller, he chose dachshunds because their proportions are right, the breed includes a lot of diversity of appearance and, I suspect, because of their sheer incongruity in this setting.
The show works on more than one level. First of all Miller is making a point, a satirical jab at the level of discourse of global assemblies like this and in turn how the world handles important human right issues. We get it. But we also get - and love - its sheer audacity and spectacle. It’s exciting to watch the boundaries of theatre and art visibly pushed wide open in such a bold and accessible way. And on a basic level, there is fun in spades here to watch how each delegate, and therefore country, performs, with the audience responding to the more audacious counties’ efforts to command centre stage. Art imitating life indeed.
If the show isn't a complete success, the fault lies, I hate to say, in its canine cast. Selected at auditions in Toronto earlier this year, with almost 120 dogs on hand for the show's five performances, these actors have no lines to learn, but just emote, sometimes loudly, and interact – with each other and with the audience. That they do – barking, sniffing each other, exploring the set, snoozing and in the case of the Nigerian delegate, even attempting to have sex with Saudi Arabia. And it’s fun to see how, for instance, the United States is barking at its companions almost incessantly. But ultimately, the dogs on opening night needed to do more. Too many dogs just sat. But perhaps that’s the point. What do real UN delegates do anyway? And do they make a difference?
Despite creator Miller’s love of dachshunds and reasons for selecting them as its canine stars, I’m not convinced they are the right breed to truly make this show soar. Though small, Jack Russells would have brought more liveliness or Basset Hounds more visual aplomb, Great Danes more dignity, if that were needed. And Poodles? Endless possibilities.
All in all, though, this show delivers a mighty punch for its sheer audacity, originality and spectacle. Catch it while you can. It runs at the EnWave Theatre, Harbourfront, Toronto, only until March 3.
Photography is allowed, which is a real plus. For information and tickets go here.
Photography by Bob Leahy