John Patrick Shanley, who has given us Doubt, Moonstruck and Joe Versus the Volcano, has here written a witty little one act four-hander about the way business is done in the moral swamp which we call Hollywood. Bradley (Keith Waters), whose decayed values emit a stench comparable to the aroma of the suppurating ulcer on his gluteus maximus, needs to have thirteen scenes cut from the script of the movie he is producing in order to bring it in under budget. To accomplish this objective, he hauls the hapless writer, Victor (Graham Pilato) from his mother’s funeral to begin the script’s evisceration. The movie’s two female leads, Brenda (Dana Levanovsky), a no-talent fast-talker who relies on chanting and connections to carry her to success, and Collette (Laura J. Scott), a stage actor trying to break out of character roles, scruple at nothing, including the promise of an occasional horizontal mambo, to persuade Victor to tilt the script in their favor. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
In the right hands, this can be a light and cheerfully malicious entertainment, in the style of Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow. Regrettably, it is not in the right hands in this mediocre production, which is undercooked and underrehearsed. The difficulties of Four Dogs and a Bone are sufficiently varied so that the fault must be laid at the feet of director Rachel Morrissey.
The worst of it is that the characters have no arc, in the most fundamental of ways. For example, Pilato as Victor enters the second scene seemingly sober as a judge and sits down at a restaurant table with Collette. He sips a little of Collette’s wine and – Kapow! – he is drunkenly accusing her of wanting to…well, let’s just say it’s an act with which Marion Berry is apparently quite familiar. Then Collette has some wine, and shazam! She’s as drunk as he is. All I can say is what the Estelle Reiner character said in When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
At devastatingly crucial moments, actors grope for their lines. This underpreparedness is made manifest in hesitancies in their deliveries – just long enough to take us out of our fictive dream and make us realize that we are looking at actors regurgitating a script, rather than characters, living a life. This problem is particularly acute with Waters in the first scene, but it crops up throughout the production.
Scene changes are lengthy and amateurish. It is a bad sign when a Fringe show has a prop mistress, and although Michelle Bell’s collection of booze and medication is impressive it is also unnecessary and counterproductive. At one point, during a scene change, a stage hand stops to fold a tablecloth and put it away neatly. None of this frou-frou does anything for the story, and should be done away with forth hence.
The performances aren’t awful. I particularly liked Levanovsky, who makes a convincingly Machiavellian Valley Girl, but who will have to project better to play at any venue larger than the Goethe Institute. Overall, though, this production never musters the energy necessary to make us believe that we have left the confines of the theater and entered the dives and plotting chambers of Hollywood, and thus is shipwrecked before it sets sail.
I once had a director who, every time I asked him how I was doing, told me I should be “faster, louder, funnier.” He did me a great favor. Some one should do the same favor to these guys.
Four Dogs and a Bone
by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Rachel Morrissey
Produced by Two Mormons Walk Into a Bar Productions
Reviewed by Tim Treanor