My Barking Dog

The wild needs a home, too.” This phrase appears twice in Eric Coble’s nightmare comedy, My Barking Dog, coming to the Verge Theater’s mainstage March 15 through the 30th. It may be only six words but when uttered in the play, which is set in an off-kilter depiction of our present era through a past-tense lens, the phrase almost becomes a Rorschach test. Is it a plea for good stewardship of the natural world? A lament for the man-made disasters disrupting essential ecological processes? A cry for vengeance from an alienated, unfulfilled populace with nothing to lose if it all burns down?

My Barking Dog fits comfortably within Verge Theater’s tradition of contemporary, off-beat and hilarious but thought-provoking programming. Written by Tony, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize nominee Eric Coble, My Barking Dog tells the story of Toby and Melinda, two lonely people whose lives are forever changed the night they encounter a starving coyote at their apartment building. 

At first, the coyote (Canis latrans, or “barking dog”) is a strange delight that shakes up their humdrum lives. Over time they grow to expect him, leaving ritual offerings of hamburger on their stoop to entice him every night. Toby and Melinda forge a connection over this visitor and share curiosity and concern about his presence in the city. The coyote expands their world–until, one night, their world is shattered.

To say more about the plot would spoil the unhinged and provocative thrills of My Barking Dog. Coble’s play is a rich text that rewards close attention and repeat viewings. Further, the text demands sparse set and props for almost non-stop flow between scenes, and “rampant theatricality” in staging. And while the titular “barking dog” is never physically depicted on stage, a collage of lights, sound effects, music and video indicates its presence and paints a picture both vivid and bleak. The stage is set with analogue televisions and video art by Animoscillator, setting the scene in ways literal and abstract. Melinda and Toby often directly address the audience and tell us what they insist is a story that “may not all be accurate, but it’s all true.” They talk about modern life in ways that feel deeply relatable and also strangely off, as if a game of telephone over the decades renders a story from the 2020s into a magical realist hallucination.

The stage is populated only by Toby and Melinda, performed by Verge newcomers Max Schneider and Denise Hergett. Schneider has been a frequent improv performer at Last Best Comedy in Bozeman, performing his first ever scripted role in true highwire fashion. Hergett has acted professionally on stage and screen in Columbia for the past decade, and made her debut in Montana last year in The Music Man at the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts. Together they are a bewitching, hilarious duo, slipping into real emotion and unsettling trips down the rabbit hole in a manner that is both playful and fearless.

Directing this show has been a thrill I cannot wait to share with audiences. I first read the play in 2019; it immediately imprinted itself in my brain as a show I needed to see performed. Although My Barking Dog made its debut in 2011, the post-covid hangover has only made the themes of alienation, radicalization, and environmental decay more worthy of our exploration. It’s an “issue” play that doesn’t impose a moral or a message. It’s a cautionary tale without a blaring red neon sign saying “Don’t Try this At Home.” When interviewed by DC Theater Arts in 2019, Coble stated that My Barking Dog is “[not] a prescriptive play. It is a play to crack open the audience in a different way… to become more comfortable with uncertainty.”  

My Barking Dog starring Denise Hergett and Max Schneider runs at Verge Theater on the following dates:

Friday and Saturday, March 15 & 16 at 7 pm
Sunday, March 17 at 3 p
Friday and Saturday, March 22 & 23 at 7 pm
Sunday, March 24 at 3 pm
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 28, 29 & 30 at 7 pm

Suitable for ages 16+. Contains disturbing images, some language and sexual references. No animals were harmed.   

LX Miller is a Bozeman theater director, actor and radio personality on KGLT FM. He hosts Sonic Roulette live on Saturday nights.