SHAKESPEARE'S DOG, Griffin Theatre Company. In this sweet and silly send-up of Shakespeare, William Massolia has created 16 characters: various breeds of canine, a conspiratorial cat, a villainous half-wolf, two odd playfellows (a raccoon and opossum), and Cowslip and Willow, the midsummer fairies who propel the action.
It's 1594 and the title character, a mutt named Tanner (inspired by Lancelot Gobbo's dirty dog in The Merchant of Venice), is falsely accused of killing a deer in Duke Thomas Lacey's forest. Shakespeare, punished for his dog's supposed poaching, is driven from Stratford to London and on to glory, while the easily exonerated Tanner remains with his doggy pals. The plot is a pretext for bawdy Shakespearean wordplay, a Far Side-like satire of humans (called "uprights" here), and canine parodies of the plays ("Get thee to a hitching post!"). At 140 minutes, it's a half hour too long, with a plot heavy on talk and four-legged extras.
But it's energetically directed by Richard Barletta and features cleverly anthropomorphic costumes by Allida Warn, witty makeup by Scott Illingworth, and well-contrasted yelps, barks, wails, cries, scampers, leaps, accents, and tongue work by the dogged cast. Especially fun are Brad Reed as the hang-dog Tanner, Ryan Patterson as a randy hound, Jeffrey Jason Gilpin as the opportunistic stray cat, Michael Curtis as a ghostly bulldog, and Laurie Riffe as Anne Hathaway's beloved pet. To mock Massolia's good-humored homage--a classic case of "art imitating dogs"--would be like kicking a puppy.