“Ivan and the Dogs” By Hattie Naylor • Directed by David Sullivan and produced by George C.Heslin • Origin Theatre Company at Players Loft Theatre, at 115 Macdougal St., NYC • Through May 28, 2011
Dublin-born actor and producer George C. Heslin’s Origins Theatre Company is probably best known as the force behind the 1st Irish Theatre Festival. The Festival, running two solid weeks, has been a highlight of the last two fall seasons, and is slated for this coming September.
As an actor, Heslin has appeared to great effec in Enda Walsh’s “Mr. Man” off-Broadway, and in the tour of Marie Jones’ two-actor comic Broadway success, “Stones in His Pockets.”
Origins states it purpose as “to bring the best in European theater to New York,” and that’s precisely what the company has been doing when it isn’t occupied with putting the 1st Irish Festival together.
Right now, Origins is presenting Hattie Naylor’s unique one-actor play, “Ivan and the Dogs,” which, in its London staging, was nominated for the coveted Olivier Award. The New York version, which marks the play’s American premiere, has been helmed by Boston-based director David Sullivan, and stars the youthful actor Kevin Melendez.
Director Sullivan’s unique production has been called “a beautiful retelling of a true story,” “a captivating and surprisingly uplifting modern-day fairy tale,” and, with some justification, “a true story about a boy who goes to the dogs.”
“Ivan and the Dogs” began as a radio play, produced on Britain’s Radio 4, and at London’s Soho Theatre in 2010. It was inspired by an article the playwright read in a newspaper about a Russian four-year-old, a runaway child who made a life with a pack of five dogs in a sewer below the streets of the city.
The story took place in the late 1990s, in the late days of the reign of Boris Yeltsin. It was a time when there was widespread poverty and many animals, formerly pets, were turned out into the streets by people who felt they could no longer afford to care for them. The animals were forced to fend for themselves as best they could. Hence, the packs of feral dogs.
The actual Ivan drew the interest of a female psychologist who gave him a home. The boy, who had run away from his own home to escape his brutal stepfather, eventually became curious about his background. When the boy was around seven years old, he learned that his mother had been murdered by the stepfather.
The New York production was nurtured from the start by director Sullivan, who teaches at Rowan University in New Jersey, where the actor, Kevin Melendez, had studied. It was Sullivan who put the young actor and the part of Ivan together. Melendez is totally convincing as the Slavic Ivan.
The actor, now in his early 20s, comes from West New York, New Jersey. Although he has appeared in shows produced by the New York Musical Theater Festival, “Ivan and the Dogs” ranks as his professional New York debut.