In the know
What: “The Dogs of War”
Where: Wyatt Pavilion Theatre, UC Davis.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, May 16-18 and 23-25; and 2 p.m. Sundays, May 19, 26
Tickets: Suggested $5 donation at the door; limited seating — first-come, first-served.
Using the text of Shakespeare’s “Wars of the Roses” plays, “The Dogs of War” — adapted and directed by Josy Miller — features often-cut scenes of soldiers, women, children and ghosts, re-examining images of war through common people.
This gritty and visceral interpretation of the Bard’s work, presented by UC Davis Institute for Exploration in Theatre, Dance and Performance, opens Thursday, May 16, and runs through Sunday, May 26, at the Wyatt Pavilion Theatre on campus.
Miller is a doctoral candidate in performance studies. Her Shakespeare adaptation, “The Dogs of War,” emerged through a series of conversations with department of theater and dance professor Peter Lichtenfels concerning what is “not said” in Shakespeare’s plays.
“We explored what the text indicates and invites but does not explicitly articulate,” Miller said. “We found scene after scene of common people whose voices were being silenced — or simply left out — by the ‘authoritative’ voices of those in power, particularly around the subject of war. The goal became to recover these voices and give them a space in which they could be heard.”
Although “The Dogs of War” title reflects a line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” describing soldiers as material incarnations of pure violence, Miller found relevance in it for reclaiming the voices of all commoners.
“Over and over again in the histories, common people — and soldiers in particular — are compared to dogs. Sometimes this is in derogatory ways, but sometimes in ways that elevate them as embodiments of violence,” Miller said.
Miller employs the use of a chorus to map the (un)history of the populace for the audience through “Richard II,” “Henry IV — Parts 1 and 2”, “Henry V,” “Henry VI — Parts 1, 2 and 3” and “Richard III.” Miller’s script is arranged in a way that offers a new episodic story.
Her greatest inspiration derived from several scenes: Henry V’s monologue to the citizens of Harfleur, another scene in which he visits his soldiers in disguise and hears their concerns about the conflict in which they are currently engaged — and their blame of the king; also a “Henry VI, Part III” scene in which the king observes a man dragging a body onstage to steal what belongings he can, only to realize that he has killed his father; and the sequence immediately thereafter in which a man brings a dead body onstage for the same purpose — and this turns out to be the body of his son.
Such scenes disrupt the narratives of the “necessary” or “heroic” war that so often pervade the production of the Wars of the Roses plays. Miller’s “The Dogs of War” explores what would happen if these scenes constituted a play in themselves, if there were no castle to provide a safe retreat. Miller wanted to know what would happen if the audience had to stay with the soldiers on the battlefield. She includes intricately choreographed sword fighting and projection design sure to appeal to viewers who are used to the fast pace of the digital era.
The ensemble cast, working together over four months, played a large part in shaping the production. Master of fine arts candidate Amanda Vitiello-Jensen, who portrays Lord Douglas, chief justice, citizen/messenger and Joan La Pucelle, finds Miller’s long rehearsal process exhilarating and unusual: “Josy has specific ideas but also allows us the freedom for our own contributions. She’s an extraordinary director!”
Miller hopes not only that Shakespeare enthusiasts will attend and provide feedback, but also that people who consider Shakespeare elitist or inaccessible or boring, will come and experience a coarser, scrappier and livelier interpretation of the Bard’s work.
There will be a talk-back with the director immediately following the opening night performance on May 16.