There have been times when Green Mountain thespians have complained that Vermont theater is going to the dogs. This week, that's not an entirely unfair observation.
The Middlebury Actors Workshop has put out a casting call of the four-legged variety. Specifically, they're looking for a mangy old mutt for an "important role" in the upcoming production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
"We are looking for an extremely old, docile shepherd or mutt, although any medium- to large-breed dog would work," the notice reads. "The dog is described in the script as being on its last legs. Most important is that it is calm and not too distractible. No appointment necessary."
What constitutes an "important role" for a canine that doesn't involve sniffing out explosives on planes or finding lost children? As Director Melissa Lourie explains, Steinbeck's classic novella, about Depression-era fieldworkers George Milton and Lennie Small, includes an old ranch hand named Candy, who has just one hand. Candy has an ancient, smelly dog who is stinking up the bunkhouse. Eventually, the other ranch hands force Candy to put the old dog out of its misery.
"It's kind of a foreshadowing of the death of Lenny and hits on those themes that when you're old and useless, you get taken out and shot," Lourie explains, "which is what Candy is afraid will happen to him, too."
Ideally, Lourie says the group is looking for any herding-type dog, though preferably not a purebred, and definitely not a small, fancier breed, such as a poodle, terrier or cocker spaniel. Fleas and authentic dog stink are optional.
"The older and mangier, the better. And, it has to be a dog that's very incurious and unflappable," she adds. "Maybe a deaf dog would be a good thing. The dog is even described as being deaf and blind, but it doesn't have to be completely deaf and blind." In other words, a good character actor.
Lourie notes that the dog will need to attend a few rehearsals, primarily to ensure that it can hit its mark, i.e., lay there and do nothing. Sadly, the dog will have no lines, but will be treated very well, with pee breaks as needed.
Auditions for the role will be held at the Town Hall Theater on Saturday, August 27, at 9 a.m. The show runs from September 29 through October 2 at Town Hall Theater, and October 13 and 14 at the Paramount Theater in Rutland.
What's next on the playbill for the Middlebury Actors Workshop? Lady and the Tramp? 101 Dalmatians? My personal suggestion: Cast a local production of Best in Show. You're sure to sell out opening night.