my dad, my dog: fuzzy friend

eleanor hadley kershaw

Sherry J Yoon, James Fagan Tait, My Dad, My Dog, Boca del Lupo

Sherry J Yoon, James Fagan Tait, My Dad, My Dog, Boca del Lupo

What I write here doesn’t express my response to My Dad, My Dog. I’m just using it to explore my possible response, had I been watching a different show in another country, with other people. While it isn’t a true account of My Dad, My Dog, it is made up of details that are true…

It is with a similar postmodern bent that Sherry J Yoon introduces us to Boca del Lupo’s production of My Dad, My Dog, the story of her imagined North Korean doppelganger’s discovery of a dog she believes to be the reincarnation of her father. Through inventive interaction between animation, film and live performance, we witness her unfolding relationship with a man who likes pigeons (James Fagan Tait) and a filmmaker obsessed with monsters (Billy Marchenski). In an idiosyncratic exploration of how Yoon’s life might have been had she been born on the other side of her family tree in Korea rather than in Canada, we experience a sometimes witty, sometimes whimsical investigation into perspective and point of view.

Framed by the animator (Jay White) and his tools on one side of the bare stage, and the musician (Alicia Hansen) with her piano on the other, Yoon guides the naïve film-maker around the streets of her city, neatly stamping in a straight line as he trails in zigzags behind her. She is responsible for him during his stay in North Korea, and instructs what he may and may not photograph. He pans his camera towards the audience, looking for an image he wants to capture. On the large screen behind the actors, we see the rectangular frame of his viewfinder scan the landscape. The screen is white apart from the small frame, which reveals to us a continuous, beautifully painted watercolour image of the city. The filmmaker finds a view he is pleased with, and shoots; we are momentarily blinded by his flash. In this instant, the onscreen watercolour transforms to an actual photograph: several men, police or soldiers, are lined up carrying guns. Panicked, the guide snatches the camera and deletes this image, explaining that her charge must check that it is appropriate before he takes a shot. This is the least composed we’ve seen her: a momentary lack of restraint reveals the severity of the consequences if prohibited behaviour occurs under her watch. The filmmaker wavers over another couple of images and Yoon quickly points him towards more appropriate compositions. He finds a poster with a man’s face blown up to enormous proportions, presumably the President. Flash, and we see the photo. That’s right, says Yoon, you seem to be getting the hang of this.

Luckily for us, Boca del Lupo’s ability to portray differing perspectives on a narrative is not restricted. The cultural misunderstandings between Yoon and her newfound friend, the bird enthusiast, are touchingly comical. As they sit to eat, the animator draws efficiently simple lines onto glass, creating a restaurant around them. Yoon misreads the ornithologist’s emphatic concern about “the soup” and can’t understand why he struggles to bring himself to eat it. When it dawns on her that he believes that this is dog soup, an infamous Korean delicacy, to his embarrassment she laughs uncontrollably. When they first meet in the park, what she believes to be a polite smile in reaction to his invasive questions and attempts to test her personality, he reads as an Asian contempt for westerners.

By far the most entertaining perspectives on display are the conversations between animals, played out in animations which appear on the big screen while the actors provide voiceovers into a microphone downstage left. Two pigeons crossly discuss the fact that the crane, which gets so much attention, wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone, a strip of heavily guarded, and therefore environmentally protected, land between North and South Korea). The dog that Yoon believes to be her father discusses his bewilderment at her behaviour with another stray: just one of the guys discussing his woman troubles with his buddy. Earlier we witnessed Yoon speaking to the dog, reaching out her hand towards his form on the screen as she thinks out loud about her father. The dog doesn’t know whether she wants to hurt him or love him. There’s one of a number of postmodern quips as his friend asks, “what did she say?” “Well that’s the thing, I have no idea – it was all in English!”.

Later on, the ornithologist’s huge face – actual not animated – looms over us, occupying the whole of the screen. He purses his lips, squeaks and clicks, and it becomes apparent that we are the pigeon that he has decided to smuggle back into Korea in his trousers, at the moment just before the sedative is administered. Later on, the filmmaker sets Yoon’s dog free and he scampers out of sight. We hear screeching brakes and a crash. The dog has been run over by a car. The camera is brought centre-stage and we see the three humans looking at it, while onscreen their sad faces look down on us.

With this clever layering we are shown that situations can be experienced differently depending on which perspective you approach them from, or which perspective you are permitted. Following the dog’s death, Yoon breaks out of character, relaxing her stiff body language and losing the almost robotic Korean inflections in her English. The dog’s death is the only detail of this story that isn’t true. It’s invented to create “a sense of convergence and closure.”

The three characters decide to write down their secrets and give them to the pigeon to carry away, in an act of remembrance. The ornithologist cups his hands, facing the screen, and as he opens them out the bird appears on the brown and green park landscape onscreen, flying away from us into the distance. The animation follows and eventually catches up with the bird, so we are given a literal bird’s eye view of the sea as it flies towards Canada. It passes a semi-submerged Godzilla, then approaches Vancouver, and finally a large white house. Just as we think we are safely home, another dog bounds into view, leaps past us and we hear a squeak and a crunch. A single feather drops to the floor. Through another viewfinder, the dog, mouth full, looks guiltily back at us, then jumps away towards a tree in the garden. The camera idly drifts up to the top of the tree. Then a screech of tires, a yelp, and a crash. The camera drops to the floor. Blackout.

Although the relentless postmodern frame of this show sometimes seems a little tired, it is often charmingly self-aware: this quirky twist is a beautifully crafted ending to the personal and cozy journey of My Dad, My Dog. And as for this article? The only detail of the review that doesn’t express my true response is the beginning…

28 January 2008