Ryan Tramont, Christine Verleny (standing),
Wrenn Schmidt, and Patrick Melville in Crazy for the Dog

(Photo © Rachel Reiner)
Ryan Tramont, Christine Verleny (standing),
Wrenn Schmidt, and Patrick Melville in Crazy for the Dog
(Photo © Rachel Reiner)
We never see Pete, the dog, in Christopher Boal's new play Crazy for the Dog, which has just transferred to an Off-Broadway run at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre. That's too bad, since it would have given us at least one character with whom we could have empathized. As it happens, only one of the four characters in this family drama is appealing, and that has less to do with Boal's writing than with actor Ryan Tramont's skill and charm.

Jenny (Wrenn Schmidt) is a mentally unstable young woman who is incensed that her older brother, Paul (Patrick Melville), and his wife, Sarah (Christine Verleny), are moving from New York to San Francisco. In retribution, she has stolen Paul's beloved dog, the aforementioned Pete. Moreover, Jenny has concocted a rather elaborate plan using her ex-boyfriend, Kevin (Ryan Tramont), as an accomplice. As the story unfolds, so-called "truths" emerge from the past of this brother and sister, who clearly did not emerge from their childhoods unscarred. But since Boal doesn't make his characters' problems feel universal, these "truths" come off as mere facts that carry no emotional weight.

As the play begins, we see a sparse impression of an apartment with Chinese food boxes strewn everywhere. Right away, there's a problem: The boxes don't look even the slightest bit used. They're supposed to represent the detritus of someone holed up in an apartment and surviving on take-out food, but the lack of verisimilitude is striking -- and it's a metaphor for everything else that's wrong with this play. For instance, the characters are too obviously artificial constructs designed primarily to make the playwright's points; they don't have the tell-tale marks of real people anymore than the take-out boxes look like they contain real food.

Director Eric Parness helps bring a certain restless energy to the relationship of the siblings while keeping the play's other two characters relatively still. Melville, who looks like a young Larry Pine, does yeoman work as the buttoned-down older brother who tries to be reasonable with his nuttier-seeming sister. Schmidt as Jenny is good throughout but particularly compelling in the second act, when her vicious side gives way to fear. Verleny gives a sensitive performance in the thankless role of a wife caught between her husband and his family.

But it's Tramont who truly shines; his offbeat delivery and natural acting style draw us in and make us listen. We even come to care about the baseball cards that his late father gave him. Unfortunately, though we should care as much about the trials and tribulations of the rest of these characters, we don't. Crazy for the Dog is just another product of the dog days of this disappointing theatrical summer.