Artscape
5:03 am
Mon April 16, 2012

A 'dog' narrates the story in a new play at Book-It Theatre

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” tells the story of a wannabe race car driver living in Seattle. The story, though, is told through the eyes, ears and nose of a unique narrator: an especially philosophical dog.

Enzo is the name of the dog in a story by Seattle author Garth Stein that was published as a book in 2008. It became a best seller. And a movie, with actor Patrick Dempsey as the (human) lead, is being talked about.

But for the moment  "The Art of Racing in the Rain" is the latest production at Seattle's Book-It Repertory Theatre in an adaptation by Myra Platt.

"I was really moved by the way this story of this ordinary family became extraordinary because it’s viewed from Enzo's perspective," says the play's director Carol Roscoe. "Enzo has this secret wish to one day be the kind of man he sees his master as. He feels he has a very human soul and that he is misplaced in this dog's body."

The story tells the tale of Enzo Ferrarri (named after the race car driver) and his owner Denny Swift and man's journey through life's big moments: marriage, fatherhood, and more.

Enzo is on his own journey, convinced after watching a documentary, that he is on a spiritual path to becoming a man.

Stein was inspired to write the story after watching a Mongolian documentary about dogs and reincarnation.

Enzo, a dog of indeterminate heritage, narrates the story but he does not talk to the humans. Which made the character a challenge when it came to adapting him for the stage.

"We had conversations of 'Do we ever want to see  a real dog on stage?' 'Is it an actor in a dog suit?' 'What do we do?'" Roscoe explains.

The answer they came up with? David S. Hogan, local actor as well as "David the Dog Trainer," which is the name of the West Seattle business he runs with his wife.

Hogan has been working with dogs for the past seven years. When auditions were announced for the play, he jumped at the chance.

"I kind of told myself, 'I’ve got to get this part!' I work with dogs. I am basically part dog," he says.

The role means he gets to do things he doesn't usually do on stage or in real life: grab a toy with his mouth; wag his butt; bark like a puppy.

But Hogan was surprised by the difficulty of the role and how physical it is. "Enzo" never stands like a human. So Hogan is on his hands and knees and he rolls around. He wears all kinds of protective padding. He’s not in a furry dog costume but he does wear a collar and leash and early on there was talk about outfitting him with a tale.

"A stumpy-like Airedale-type tail."

Because Hogan knows dogs so well, he’s expert at nailing down their moves, from that look of unconditional love to that mischevious glint.

"There’s a physicality to Enzo in the way he listens and responds and takes things in that we want to communicate to the audience."

Hogan’s also had to figure out his reaction to how emotional the role is. He has two dogs. The story spans a decade; you know what’s going to happen next.

"Sometimes even I would look at the last pages of our script and I would get a little bit weepy," he says.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” lets audiences imagine what a dog dreams about and their feelings when it comes to death. It’s a story about a dog and his family that’s told by a dog, but it’s really as human a story as you can get.

The play runs at Book-It from April 17 to May 13.