Watch Dog, Chicago Actors Ensemble. Playwright David Gilbert made his splash as a screenwriter with the 1984 break-dancing movie Beat Street, then taught screenwriting at DePaul for nearly a decade. So it’s no surprise that Watch Dog seems a film script masquerading as live theater. The short, punchy scenes jump from location to location every few minutes (making Robert G. Smith’s immobile corporate-lobby set monumentally inappropriate), and they’re filled with quirky characters having quirky conversations about their quirks that might have some impact if underplayed and filmed in close-up. But on Smith’s football-field stage and under Drew Martin’s uncharacteristically ham-handed direction, Gilbert’s scenes dissipate into mildly diverting nonevents. This is a Mike Leigh film without depth, a John Guare play without theatrical flair.
Watch Dog focuses on a hapless, painfully unremarkable security guard, Edd, who’s buffeted by the whims of an officious supervisor, an overbearing uncle, and the ghosts of his pathologically dysfunctional parents. Greg Bryant delivers a subtly modulated performance as the stone-faced Edd, giving his personality-free character all the heartbreaking humanity of Gogol’s Akaky Akakyevich. But without a dramatic anchor, Bryant ends up drifting, while Gilbert’s pointless decoration proliferates: a wacky uncle eats zebra, kangaroo, and vampire bat; a wacky love interest breaks into a bluesy song and dance on first meeting Edd; and we meet various wacky street people and neighbors. Come to think of it, Watch Dog isn’t a movie script–it’s a two-hour sitcom pilot.