A sense of delight is unfolding nightly in The Dog/The Cat, a new double bill comprised of a play by Brendan Cowell (The Dog) and one by Lally Katz (The Cat). Gently, thematically related, this is a double bill done right: a sweet, complementary marriage of theatrical storytelling.
Ralph Myers, Belvoir’s outgoing artistic director, both directs and designs the pair, sculpting a warm foundation for the actors to build on with their wonderfully light approaches. Andrea Demetriades, Benedict Hardie, and Xavier Samuel are our company and they are each instantly likable; there’s something earthy and recognisable within each actor that lets us slide straight into these two different, but not unwelcoming, universes.
In The Dog, Hardie and Samuel are flatmates who share custody of a dog. Ben (Samuel) is a bit of a slacker writer, unkempt and ambivalent. Marcus (Hardie) is his opposite, composed and well-dressed and financially secure. At the dog park, they keep running into Miracle (Demetriades) and her own dog, trading slices of life and stories (the two flatmates have fallen out, but over what, exactly?) and each man, in their way, makes a case for Miracle’s affections. Pure romantic comedy, but The Dog never pretends to be perfect or even cinematic, with grand gestures and declarations, and the play’s ultimate resolution is sweeter for it.
The Cat trades on similar romantic comedy parameters, introducing us to a newly broken-up couple (Demetriades and Hardie) who, now that they’re no longer living together, have worked out a shared custody arrangement for their cat. (The cat is, wonderfully, Samuel in a catsuit). Things take a charmingly surreal turn when the cat’s displeasure at his new living arrangement can’t be contained, and he begins to let his owners know it — in an unusual way.
Cowell and Katz are appealingly compatible writers on a double bill and that is because their divergences and differences, when taken together, add up to a delightful whole: Katz has whimsy and warmth to her comedy, while Cowell has the here-and-now edge of Sydney and Melbourne directly in his sights, lightly skewering his typical audience.
Katz and Cowell both, however, have a soft yet insistent empathy for their characters, even when they are hopeless or baffled, and both have great senses of humour. Both seem to believe in love, too, and the different ways it can find and define us.
Three actors, some animals, and the way we try to make sense of ourselves and the people around us, with a liberal share of laughs to boot: This is such a surprising highlight for downstairs at Belvoir, these two plays, this eighty minutes of joyful play.