It was only a matter of time before Peter Steiner's highly popular 1993 New Yorker cartoon, which shows a dog sitting at a computer talking to another dog with the caption "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," would be exploited in some theatrical format.
Alan David Perkins wrote his play Nobody Knows I'm a Dog in 1995, and in the intervening years has seen it produced successfully around the world before finally bringing it into New York City for an open-ended run this fall. Is New York ready for it? Is it ready for New York? Well, yes and no.
Nobody Knows I'm a Dog examines the lives of six people whose false personas and unrealized dreams are played out in the electronic world of Usenet Singles Newsgroups, E-mail, and Internet Relay Chat. Though the medium's anonymity has given them the courage to socialize, they eventually become undone when a "mole" reveals their true selves.
But while the idea is terrific, Perkins hasn't really written a play so much as a series of dialogues and monologues that connect with each other in the broadest possible way. Its ideas and characters are funnier in theory than presentation. With no set or staging to speak of (the characters are all seated in front of keyboards and rarely move from their assigned spots on the stage), there was very little to look at (Perkins also directed). The lighting was dark and uneven, and the costumes, mostly hidden by the seated actors and poor lighting, looked like they had been pulled from the actors' closets (all uncredited). Everything was dependent on the writing and the performers to make it spin, which it did with a sort of awkward, bumpy grace until the second act.
And then a strange thing happened. Despite the static presentation, the mawkishly sentimental writing, and the naïve, sweetly amateurish performances, a very real connection took place between audience, the performers, and the material. Their stories became intriguing, and finally irresistible. Even with the outcome predetermined from the start, it was still exhilarating to become a vicarious part of these peoples' lives, in part because despite their outright mendacity about themselves, they were basically very appealing human beings. And if the whole thing is not as satirically sharp as it wants to be, the points that Perkins makes do become salient ones, soft little pinpricks that ultimately sting with truth. Little moments resonated for hours afterwards: the pure machismo joy with which Peter Vrankovic's character attacked another; the wistful look on middle-aged Miriam P. Denu's face when she described herself to the teen-aged Erik H. Luers, neither of them knowing the truth; Luers's palpable excitement of teen-age discovery throughout; Joel Silverman's obvious discomfort with his on-screen persona; Ray Bonétt's reaction to his secret being revealed; and finally, the radiant Sylvia Vinall, who captured every tortured nuance of her character with both inner and outer beauty.
While Nobody Knows I'm a Dog is less than a perfect exploration of the power of the Internet to connect and disenfranchise at the same time (it is too sentimentally self-conscious for that), the very real emotions that make up its core make it an affecting, appealing, and even pleasant way to spend an evening.
Return to Volume Nine, Number nineteen Index
Return to Volume Nine Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita