UI play explores a man’s (or woman’s) best friend

A UI play examines dogs and their owners throughout time and space.


Lily Smith

The backstage of E.C. Mabie Theatre is seen during an A Midsummer Night’s Dream dress rehearsal in the E.C. Mabie theatre in the Theatre Building on Monday, April 16, 2018.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Reporter

Over the ages, dogs and humans have served as companions for each other, bouncing back the reciprocity needed in a relationship thousands of years old. The latest UI play explores that bond; in Companion Animals, three women in different time periods make large attempts to fight for their furry friends’ basic right to good lives. 

The show, written by Madeleine George and directed by Meredith Alexander, will première at 8 p.m. today in Theater Building’s Theater B.  

The plot buses in and out of London in 1907, Russia in 1957, and New York in 2017. Each year follows a different woman fighting to help a beloved dog. 

“Instead of a single plot, it’s this tapestry woven together that is based on true fact,” Eileen Campbell (Kyrie) said. “The script is not just about dogs being cute — it draws parallels of pulling away from normal relationships.” 

It’s challenging, you have to come off stage and switch characters in your head, along with the dialect. You have to think where this character is coming from, and what they have to do.

— Cristina Ranslem

From being unethically tested on by scientists, being shot into space, or becoming misplaced, the show portrays each time frame with some sort of injustice toward dogs.

Campbell describes Companion Animals, with its various plots, several characters but tantamount theme, as not a traditional play. Dialect is an art that needed perfecting for the performance. Proper Russian, New York, and English accents were a necessity to accuracy. 

“We trained with voice director Mary Coy and listened to tapes for hours,” said Cristina Ranslem, who plays several characters. “I had to learn how to switch in and out of different accents, and there are many difficulties each accent has with different words. You have to work at it until it’s automatic and organic to you and the character you’ve built.” 

The play is multi-cast and involves several scene changes. This requires the actors to be on top of their games. 

“It’s challenging; you have to switch characters in your head and in your body along with the dialect,” Ranslem said. “You have to think quickly about where this character is coming from and what they have to do.” 

The hours put into a production are long and can be hard, but Emma Bibb, who also plays several characters, said the payoff is worth it. 

“It’s a LOT of caffeine and a LOT of resisting the urge to get fast food because it’s easier than making a healthy dinner,” Bibb said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “But it’s also a huge sense of accomplishment when the show goes up. It’s five weeks of making friends with some pretty incredible people and opening yourself up to being moved by the work being created in a group of insanely talented individuals. I don’t think there’s anything in the world that would make me want to give it up.”