`Going to the Dogs' just the ticket in Amsterdam

Most people know about the musical ``Cats.'' Now there's a play called ``Going to the Dogs.'' Here's a big difference: all six characters are played by German Shepherd dogs.

Dutch playwright Wim T. Schippers is the (human) author. His work is to be given its first (and quite possibly last) three performances tonight and tomorrow night at the Stadsschouwburg Theatre here.

The play has been produced, says Arjen Stuurman, the theatrical agent responsible for the project, by three police dog trainers. The dogs themselves are not police dogs, but were bought specifically to be trained for the stage. They have been rehearsing since January.

``We used the German dogs,'' Mr. Stuurman says, ``because they are normal dogs.'' They are not dressed up, and they are not little dogs. The aim is ``to handle it like a normal play.'' Hints of the circus are avoided.

The plot has bite. Stuurman describes it as ``like `Dallas'.'' It concerns ``family problems. The boy is introducing his fianc'ee to his parents and the parents don't like her.''

The rehearsal period produced its own family problems in the form of nine puppies born to one of the leading ladies. ``We were very surprised,'' said Stuurman. ``We still don't know who the father is.''

``Going to the Dogs'' is a four-act play, 45 minutes in the first half, 30 in the second, with an intermission.

The play is opened by ``Hector Pavlov,'' the ``narrator,'' (played by Helanus Rol) who gives a short introduction -- ``a little speech'' of ``Woofs!'' But the tail -- I mean, tale -- unwinds from then on in canine mime, with the audience helped out by program notes.

Though the dogs are mostly silent, there are some sounds. There is music from the radio, and the Dogs' News on television, as well as a documentary.

A more elaborate version of the play, written 12 years ago, encountered too many problems when an attempt was made to present it on Broadway. In Amsterdam it has taken four years of planning and involved the difficult task of obtaining financial support. The Netherlands Government came up with 6,000 guilders, the city of Amsterdam, 5,000. A television documentary is also underway, showing how the play was produced and including excerpts from it.

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