2004 Gassner Award Winner

The Dogs of Pripyat
by Leah Napolin

Plot synopsis: If only dogs could talk! Well, in The Dogs of Pripyat (subtitled We Have to Live!) they do. And what they have to say we may not want to hear.

It is 1986. All inhabitants within 20 miles of the human and environmental disaster at Chernobyl have been evacuated. By government order, however, their companion animals have been left behind. What do the abandoned dogs do? They return to their homes in the new ghost towns of the Ukraine, join together in packs and hunt down the remaining livestock from the collective farms in the surrounding countryside. These de-evolved canines (the very notion of a feral poodle has elements that partake of both the tragic and the comic!) go back to their roots: the ur-dogs of antiquity and, before that, the wolf.

Boychik, a gentle plucky mutt still grieving the loss of his ruptured family, must quickly adapt and learn who his enemies are, as well as his friends. Who are the hunters and who the hunted? With the rise of Blitz and Sofya, alpha male and female of the pack, the dogs rejoice in their liberation from Man only to find that they have exchanged one set of masters for another. In order to survive in this raw post-apocalyptic world of the Exclusion Zone, Boychik and his packmates must rediscover the predatory instincts bred out of them over generations of domestication and easy living. Their greatest challenge: learning how to kill.

A power struggle ensues between Boychik and the ruthless alphas that threatens to tear apart the society of dogs. A tender relationship develops between Boychik and Ninotchka, a high-spirited young cat, that teaches Boychik the meaning of cooperation for the common good.

Paralleling the tale of the dogs is the story of two old peasants who defy government orders to leave, and for better or worse cling to their land, reaping a bitter harvest.

To complicate matters further, the starving dogs set off in pursuit of The Catfish, a radioactively-spawned mutant that swims in the cooling pond of the ruined nuclear plant. In a final, lethal confrontation, everyone's lives are changed yet again. Boychik becomes the new leader of the pack but renounces his ascendancy in order to seek the home he longs for, which he finds in the most unexpected of places.

This adult fable of bonding and survival, based on a true story, is set not in some distant sci-fi future but in recent memory when one of the first dark scenarios of the future played out on the world stage, and it resonates with the hopes and fears of our own post-9/11 world.

Staging: In letting the dogs tell their own story in the most economical and effective way possible, the author has chosen to set aside certain conventions that are taken for granted in the anthropomorphic depiction of animals on stage. It is recommended that no masks or animal costumes be used, providing the actors with an unparalleled challenge to "inhabit" their characters on a purely physical level. This is a first step to understanding nuanced degrees of intelligence and animal behavior, keeping in mind that animals and humans share a vast common ground of behaviors. If this can be accomplished without artifice of any kind, relying on nothing more than skill and the exchange of imagination that takes place between actor and audience, it will create transformative stage magic far more powerful than any costumes or masks can confer.

Set requirements are simple but will likewise test the vision and creative mettle of any design team. Specific views of the town of Pripyat, taken after April 26, 1986, are available on the Internet, and it's hoped that at least some of these haunting photographs (i.e. an abandoned bicycle on a weedy footpath, a crumbling housing complex, a littered apartment, the exterior of the Palace of Culture, the sarcophagus at the Chernobyl nuclear station, among others) can be used as backdrop projections in conjunction with certain minimal props and scenic elements to create a spare, dream-like, semi-documentary space within which the story unfolds.

Cast: 10-12 ( depending on doubling.) Five men, five women, and two parts that can be played by either men or women.

For more information, contact Leah Napolin.