Logan Black is an Iraq War veteran and an actor. Last year he moved Kansas City Fringe Festival audiences with Bond: A Soldier and His Dog, a one-act play he wrote about his relationship with a specialized search dog named Diego.
With another run for the show this month, however, Black has faced a tough reality, with implications for the play’s future: Diego hasn't been well.
Black was Diego's handler. Together, they cleared roads of roadside bombs and searched homes and discovered other stockpiles of ordnance.
"We found over 250,000 pounds of weapons, ammunitions and explosives," Black says. "When I left Fallujah in 2007, I was told by Explosive Ordinance Disposal in Fallujah that no dog team had been as successful as we had. So if he wasn’t the best dog in the entire Operation Iraqi Freedom the year we were there, he was definitely in the very top."
In doing this dangerous work, the two formed a bond that Black describes as like father and son, and this is the story he tells in his play. For most of the show, Diego is offstage – he comes to life only through Black’s storytelling.
But there’s one key moment when he appears on stage.
"It doesn’t matter how big or small the theater is, that moment you can feel the room change in a way that I haven’t encountered before in theater," Black says. "It’s a really tremendous moment when the audience sees him. When they see a dog actually come on stage and – there he is!"
Besides showing the closeness of their relationship, that moment demonstrates Diego's elite training. For a few minutes, the one-man show has two actors.
But for the last few weeks, Diego could barely move.
A bulging disc was pinching his spinal cord. Black had to carry him out to do his business.
"He really didn’t have control over his back legs very well. It was excruciating for him – the kind of pain that he could barely make a sound," Black says. "He’d have panic attacks, pant very heavily, excessive drooling, so I knew he was in a lot of pain."
The veterinarian prescribed tramadol for the pain and prednisone for the swelling, and a few days before the show's April 8-11 run, Diego was almost back to his usual self.
But Diego is 11 years old. And Black knows the usual lifespan for a Labrador is 10 to 12 years.
So Black has had to start thinking about the inevitable. Besides the painful decision many pet owners ultimately have to make, Black has to think about the future of his play.
"At first I thought, he can’t be in the play anymore. He can’t do the show. I thought, well, my option is to continue with the world that I’ve already built and established: that he’s an imaginary factor in the play. I interact with an imaginary dog, rub the ears, play fetch with an imaginary dog."
It looks as if Diego will be making his usual appearance in the upcoming run of the play, to which Black has added new material (including a story he says he wasn't ready to tell during last year's Fringe Festival).
He's also in talks with theaters in Chicago and Tulsa and in California. He'd like to take the play on tour, and he hopes to get the script published and licensed so other actors and theaters can produce the show.
He's considered incorporating video projections or other methods of evoking Diego's presence, because he knows that someday, the show will have to go on without Diego.
Just not this week.
Bond: A Soldier and His Dog, April 8-10 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial; April 22-24 at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College; 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets at KCFringe.org.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.