In Alexandria, theater is going to the dogs — literally. When “Caesar; or, the Watchdog of the Castle” hits the state at the Lee Center next week, dogs and humans will star together in a Gothic melodrama that involves a lost heir, a stolen identity and lovers divided by aristocratic custom.
Conceived by the New Old Theater, the limited-engagement is sponsored by the Society for Theatre Research with part of the proceeds going to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Written in 1844 by W.T. Moncrieff, the play will feature suspense, swordplay and romance.
“It’s antique but vibrant,” said Steven Lampredi, artistic director of the New Old Theater. “People will have fun.”
The action of the play begins around 1800 after the owner of a castle in France dies in an insurrection. A dispute then arises about who should inherit the castle. A young man and his two faithful dog companions try to straighten out the situation when a charlatan tries to lay claim to the castle.
“We designed moments in the play when dogs could help advance the plot,” Lampredi said. “They can be frightened by new things. We have to be certain not to use power tools when they are around, for example.”
Two Shetland sheepdogs —Aramis and D’Artagnan — have been cast to star in the play. Although they are not yet household names, both sheepdogs have impressive resumes.
D’Artagnan recently finished shooting for a short film that will air on PBS in the fall of 2006. His other performance work includes parades, festivals, a Harry Potter book release and a public-service announcement. Aramis also has an impressive resume. She was featured in a banner advertisement on Animal Planet’s Web site for the Pet Psychic. Her picture can currently be seen advertising products on Magpix.com and ThinkGeek.com. She has been in parades, festivals and a Harry Potter book release.
“They both know they are performing,” said Buff Huntley, director of the play. “They are scene stealers because they are so cute.”
Huntley said that although dog melodramas were very common 100 years ago, they are all but unheard of these days. So she is excited about the unusual nature of the performance as well as the human cast and the woodwind quartet that will be performing live music during the show.
“We have excellent music and excellent musicians,” Huntley said. “It’s a charming piece of the past.”