Heart of a Dog


64 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-921833-03-2
DDC C812'.54





Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp is chair of the Drama Department at Queen’s University
and the author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


The main character in this highly original one-man show is grotesque. He
is half-man, half-dog. His face is covered in dirt, and his hands are
filthy and pawlike. He is vulgar and stocky, and speaks with an Eastern
European accent—a rough diamond of a raconteur who addresses his
audience directly, narrates his stories using flashback, and plays the
whole cast of ironic characters while telling the stories.

Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov is angry and resentful. He is seeking
justice and redress for a number of wrongs—both real and
imagined—which are revealed in a succession of dark and strangely
inconclusive stories, and which he substantiates and embellishes by
pawing through his dirt-filled cases for relevant “treasures.”

The play is freely adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov’s ferocious,
corrosive, and allegorical 1925 satire, which was itself a study in
apocalyptic black humor. For most of his short life (1891-1940),
Bulgakov was a journalist as well as a writer of satire and comedy in
Russia. After Stalin refused him permission to emigrate by in 1930, his
work focused on the relationship of the writer and the state. Not
surprisingly, its motifs—privations, bureaucratic indignities, slammed
doors, cold winters, futile paperwork, the abuse of power—brought him
into conflict with party-oriented critics, and “Heart of a Dog” was

What Bulgakov did extremely well—and this is echoed in Robert
Astle’s stage adaptation—is to draw a picture of a society in which
the protagonist is an outcast. Heart of a Dog is wickedly funny and has
remarkable political sophistication given its allegorical thrust.


Astle, Robert, and Agnès Limbos., “Heart of a Dog,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/6516.