They came to Wheaton's Round House Theatre last night on all fours, seeking fame, fortune and, maybe down the road, a chance to make TV commercials with Lorne Green.
No ordinary canines were these, not a Fido or Spot among them. They came with names like Cocque, Cognic and Coulomb and degrees from obedience school. One even brought along a two-inch-thick portfolio that included "rave reviews" from an earlier play at the Round House Theatre.
Some were cuddly and cute, such as ET, the 20-pound black- and brown-striped mutt. Others were gargantuan and godlike, such as Timothy, the 155-pound gray Irish wolfhound.
What they wanted was no different than what other actors desire -- the opportunity to play Shakespeare, in this case, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," which will run at the Round House during May.
"I thought it could be fun," said Nancy Padett, who had brought her dog Gypsy from Germantown. "She likes to work. And who knows, she could be the next Mike the Dog."
Gerry Whiddon, who will direct the production, was not sure what to look for in the animals. "I have never cast dogs before," he said. "I've never done anything with dogs before except pet 'em."
However, Whiddon knew the dog had to be "scruffy looking." That eliminated several of the dogs, possibly including Joey, whose owner, Joanne Blackman of Darnestown, Md., played the role of stage mother when asked about her pet's good grooming.
"If you want him more scruffy," Blackman said, "I'm a groomer. He can be more scruffy."
The dog that gets the part will play the role of Crab, a pooch that has a love-hate relationship with his owner, Launce. Although Crab will be onstage only four times during the performance, Launce complains about his antics almost constantly. "Crab is always doing something wrong like lifting his leg at the wrong time under the dinner table of some aristocrat," Whiddon said.
For two hours, dogs sat, stayed, played dead, barked and breakdanced at their owners' commands. Some even followed directions from Daniel DeRaey, the actor who will play the role of Launce in the production.
After Timothy, the Irish wolfhound, correctly followed DeRaey's directions, the actor told the dog what would follow. "Now, I do a lot of this meaningless Shakespeare stuff," he said, "and you steal the show."
Assertiveness and enthusiasm helped the performers and the owners. The first hopeful pair marched up to the director, seated in the first row in front of the stage. "Here's his resume," Shelly Caplan of Gaithersburg said, her black and tan dog "Shiloh" sitting obediently at her left side.
Whiddon began to explain the dog's character in the play. "She would play the part of . . . . "
"Crab," Caplan interjected, "I read the play." She also brought along with her a book, "Dogs in Shakespeare," that at least made Whiddon remember her.
Tuffy, a 1-year-old part poodle, had the unenviable task of auditioning last. His owner, Luis Larco of Wheaton, said the dog can beg and walk on his hind legs. "I never taught him any of it," Larco said. "I don't know how he learned it."
Larco figures that if Tuffy can do those things without being trained, the dog has as good a shot as any at getting the part.
Whiddon had not made a decision by the end of the session. "I'd really rather watch these dogs audition instead of actors," he said. "But I'm not going to have another cattle call . . . er, puppy call."