New York Theatre Workshop recently launched its new season with the play "Red Dog Howls" starring stage veteran Kathleen Chalfant. Time Out New York contributing critic David Cote filed the following review.
Kathleen Chalfant is one of New York theater’s greatest assets. She endows each role with steely intelligence, dry wit and moral urgency. You can see why Chalfant took her current role as Rose, an Armenian grandmother with tragic secrets from the old country. Alas, if only "Red Dog" Howls were as good as its star.
"Red Dog Howls" is a portentous memory play told from the perspective of Michael Kiriakos, a Greek-Armenian writer who, while going through his late father’s effects, discovers letters from a grandmother he thought was dead. Turns out Rose Afratian is very much alive and living in Washington Heights.
Michael tracks her down and what follows is a slow and predictable crawl toward learning why she abandoned her family and why she never seems to eat. Since you know that Rose survived the Armenian genocide of 1915, you can guess her story will be pretty horrific.
The cast can’t be faulted for not making Alexander Dinelaris’s by-the-numbers tale of trauma and guilt come alive. Alfredo Narciso is earnest but stymied as the bland Michael. Florencia Lozano has a negligible part as Michael’s pregnant wife. And Chalfant acts her heart out as the thorny Rose, who has endured such emotional torment it has twisted her into a kind of nurturing monster.
Director Ken Rus Schmoll gives the action an air of menace and mystery, but when it comes to the inevitable stomach-turning monologue, there is shock, but no catharsis.
Although it addresses a heavy and important subject, "Red Dog Howls" is ultimately a lightweight piece of historical melodrama, a weak vehicle for strong actors.