Dogs Barking, Profiles Theatre. There are three essentials to top-notch theater--good writing, good direction, and good acting--but a daunting number of companies settle for any two. Not Profiles Theatre in the U.S. premiere of Richard Zajdlic's Dogs Barking, however: they've done this strong new play to a perfect turn.
A four-character piece about the collapse of a domestic relationship in contemporary England, the script borrows the shape of A Streetcar Named Desire (it features a couple, the woman's sister, a gentle other man) and thus has ample opportunity to be predictable, melodramatic, or just plain derivative. Instead, as tautly directed by Ken Mitten and powerfully performed by Darrell W. Cox, Joe Jahraus, Sara Maddox, and Jenna Rabideaux, it's as gripping as a mystery: the audience paced the lobby during intermission, impatient to know what would happen next. It's not a perfect play--Zajdlic's ear fails him during conversations between women, which slows the start of the second act. But the piece rallies for a smashing finish.
Even the English accents--often the bane of performers--are persuasive, distinguishing the characters' class, thanks to dialect coach Eric Armstrong. And while Jahraus's set, complete with kitchen sink, initially resembles that of every other naturalistic play, the apartment becomes almost a fifth character as the couple squabbles over it. Maddox designed the excellent costumes. If a show like this can't sell out Profiles' 50-seat space, this really is a recession.