Book-It Repertory's moving, ingenious stage adaptation of Seattle author Garth Stein's novel "The Art of Racing In the Rain" maintains an accelerated pace highlighted by moments of endearment — and a remarkable canine narrator.

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Theater Review |

If actor David S. Hogan could be adopted from an animal shelter and taken home, there’s no question a lot of people who have seen Book-It Repertory’s moving, ingenious stage adaptation of Seattle author Garth Stein’s novel “The Art of Racing In the Rain” would be lining up to do precisely that.

Hogan doesn’t just play Stein’s (and playwright Myra Platt’s) keenly observant and reflective dog-narrator, Enzo. He becomes the essence of a canine companion throughout a dog’s all-too-brief passage from buoyant puppyhood to arthritis and wisdom. It’s easy to believe Enzo’s rich emotional nuances, keen instincts and overall sagacity as he keeps faith with a conflicted master through the latter’s triumphs and travails.

Hogan brings scruffy, Chaplinesque nobility and mischief to the physically demanding role of a rowdy mutt brought home by would-be race-car driver Denny (Eric Riedmann, segueing nicely from boy to man in this three-act production). The two forge a lifetime bond, and as Denny inches his way toward racing in major competitions, marries Eve (Sylvie Davidson), fathers Zoe (Mae Corley) and navigates life, Enzo is always there as witness, friend and prescient protector.

Well, almost always there. Part of the fun of “Racing” is seeing certain events interpreted and transformed through Enzo’s imagination, filtered through mashed-up metaphors gleaned from diverse sources.

Director Carole Roscoe and a truly malleable cast stage a comic-bizarre scene in which an anxious Enzo imagines Zoe’s stuffed zebra (Peter Jacobs) perversely assaulting other toys. That zebra forever after becomes a mythic evil, one of Enzo’s touchstones for understanding life.

In its fashion, “Art of Racing” embraces that old 7:1 ratio of dog years to human years through its Formula One-like, accelerated pace.

That energy matches Enzo’s endearing, backside-wiggling urgency for sensory stimulation. But there are even more endearing moments when stillness is required, such as a powerful scene in which Eve asks Enzo to stand watch over her on a desperate night — and he does.

Platt gracefully weaves into the tale Stein’s various wisdoms about racing as a mirror of life’s journey. Roscoe’s staging of racing scenes, though no more elaborate than what a 6-year-old kid might do in his bedroom, have a joyful authenticity enriched by the way such moments visibly deepen the love between Denny and his sometimes-passenger, Enzo.

Somewhat less elegant is the way a devastating event, resulting in criminal accusations toward Denny, feels more random than in Stein’s book. Somehow Stein’s subtle suggestion of Denny’s faint culpability in the incident does not come through here — this might be an insoluble, point-of-view problem — and that ambiguity is missed.

What is clear is that if every life is a race with an uncertain outcome, it helps to have a loyal chronicler like Enzo, who never stops believing in a world full of possibilities.

Tom Keogh: