The title of this world-premiere adaptation refers to that subgenre of classic children’s literature (think Old Yeller) that hinges on an upstanding dog’s grisly demise. Dogs itself belongs to an entirely different kid-lit class, which surfaced in the 1990s, spearheaded by authors like Louis Sachar. Rather than showing wee ones grappling with adult problems, works in this domain revel in eccentric, borderline magical, usually schoolhouse-based plots—that’s the stuff you experience only once in life, so savor it.
The action here centers on Wallace, a high-school jock who will not tell a lie. In a book report, Wallace admits to hating his teacher’s beloved Old Shep, My Pal, and ends up in drama-club detention. A kooky plot—Wallace retools the school’s Shep production—ensues. But adults may get caught speculating why Wallace doesn’t simply write a workable alternate essay and skip detention altogether (he takes only one weak stab). This is a bit like objecting to Angels in America because you don’t find the winged-being premise plausible. Several such plot developments prevent the evening from ever feeling like viable grown-up entertainment.
It’s too bad, since Milne has crafted such a clever staging. The cast is excellent, with Jeremy Fisher particularly hilarious as frazzled sadsack Mr. Fogelman. Milne’s also constructed skillful stage pictures: One dream sequence counts among the more striking visuals I’ve lately seen onstage. Dogs may not engage you throughout, but odds are you’ll leave the theater sensing that a decade ago (or two, or six), you could really have enjoyed this.