By Kia Standard
What makes a better dog? Is it loyalty, integrity, or courage? “Be A Better Dog” chronicles the life of a lovable canine that grows up in a small town outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Written by Makhubalo Ikaneng, this tale is told in the great tradition of old‑fashioned storytelling. Actor Seiphemo Motswiri plays the lovable pup. Dressed in a tan t‑shirt, army‑green sweatpants, and white Converse sneakers, he leaps onto the stage, panting enthusiastically. And the audience is immediately hooked.
The dog’s mother Sophie gets pregnant by a police guard dog, and after she has her litter, each puppy is promptly given away to various people in the town. The dog’s first owner Timbe lives next door to the owner of the dog’s mother; however, he is never allowed to see her and barks at her through a fence. Timbe names his new puppy Danger, and ties him to a pole in the backyard. Timbe was once a high roller in Johannesburg, surrounded by wealth and women. After losing his fortune, he bitterly returns to the town, and takes out his aggression on the dog. When Timbe wins the lottery and moves to the suburbs, he takes Danger with him. Danger is still chained to a pole, but in nicer surroundings. Timbe squanders his fortune within three months, and after his house and belongings are repossessed, the dog is taken away from him.
Danger’s new owner treats him better. His name is Ron Pete and he has a scruffy beard. He renames the dog Condo. Ron Pete reads the newspaper and complains about “the white genocide” plaguing South Africa. Ron Pete’s biggest fear is that black people will move into his neighborhood. One day a black family moves nearby, and the shock causes Ron Pete to have a heart attack. He leaves Condo to his son Simon and daughter‑in‑law Linda in his will.
Simon and Linda spoil Condo and shower him with love and presents. He gets his own room, his own bowl, and more toys than he knows what to do with. However, when Simon is at work, Linda has a daily visitor named Uncle. Uncle is not fond of Condo. He’s nice when Linda is around, but mean to the dog whenever she leaves the room. A few months later, Linda finds out she is pregnant. Condo is unexpectedly removed from his plush surroundings, and Simon chains him to a pole in the backyard. The rain is intense and Condo becomes feverish. He is taken to a vet, who gives him a shot from a sharp needle. When he wakes up he finds himself alone on the side of a busy highway.
He wanders for a few days and follows a few men who are walking to work. One man complains that their employers treat them “no better than a dog.” A dog himself, Condo wonders what that statement means. The men are mine workers, and a security guard named Solomon takes a liking to Condo and adopts him. Solomon was once a mine worker but after an injury, his managers gave him a job at the gate. A few days later there is a strike and Solomon and Condo are caught in the middle. The other employees are angry because Solomon continues to work. There is a raid on the offices and Condo tries his best to protect his owner. He promises to “be a better dog.”
Seiphemo Motswiri’s acting is engaging. He physicalizes the dog with rounded paw hands, leaps of enthusiasm, and a laughing bark. He also seamlessly transitions between each of the human characters’ vocal timbres, postures, and kinetic movements. There were times when I wanted to dance to the rhythm of the show’s South African beats and sing along with him. To sum up his performance in one word: Joyous!
“Be a Better Dog” presents social commentary not only reflecting how human beings treat their animals, but also how human beings treat each other. It teaches us to be a better friend, a better partner, and a better citizen. Just “be a better dog.”
“BE A BETTER DOG”
Performed by Seiphemo Motswiri
Nov. 16 at 7:30pm
Writer: Makhubalo Ikaneng
Stage Manager: Ikobeng Moatlhodi
Show Image by Sello Maepa, courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.