The small and intimate Jermyn Street Theatre was completely packed on Valentine’s Night, but there were perhaps not many courting couples in the audience. The play is indeed about the relationship between a man and a woman, but it is a very fraught one. I was actually expecting it to be a comedy, given the title and the premise – a Jewish woman in New York paying a Jamaican man to take her pooch for walks. But when he lets himself into her apartment, she having (very carelessly for New York) left the door open, and he hears woofing noises, only to be taken aback when she emerges from an adjoining room on her hands and knees, wagging her imaginary tail and snapping at his heels – I realised that any comedy was going to be rather dark.
The Keri Levin character is indeed very weird, an alcoholic and something of a basket case. Her scatterbrained personality is well reflected in the design for the set by Isabella Van Braeckel. Her apartment is so untidy that it makes Tracy Emin’s bed look like an exemplar of spotless hygiene. Her male antagonist (in the Greek sense, but also sometimes in the popular sense), Herbert Doakes, seems at first a bit more ‘normal’, giving her sensible advice about how to look after both herself and her dog. A big black man, he appears to have some of the comforting characteristics of the stock West Indian male, fond of goat curry, God and his mum. But he too turns out to be seriously weird, a secret alcoholic who has never had a proper job before (if dog-walking is a proper job).
As far as their jobs are concerned, the two actors do a magnificent job in their respective roles. They are on stage for 90 minutes without an intermission, and they run through an exhausting gamut of emotions. She taunts him, she fights him, she gets hysterical, she talks to her dead daughter, she even tries to commit suicide (but the dog it is that dies). He tries hard to maintain a semblance of buttoned-up propriety, formally presenting her with the ashes of her deceased Pekinese in an urn, and dispensing commonplace advice. But he too succumbs to emotion, getting drunk and losing the rag when she complains to his boss and gets him the sack. They end up rolling on the carpet, with her thumping him, and him in tears.
They do end up as a sort of couple – an odd couple indeed. And that is the problem. They are so weird that it is hard to empathise with them. The actors are great. But do we really care about the characters?