A more apt title for the production of John Patrick Shanley’s satire Four Dogs and a Bone at this year’s Capital Fringe would be Three Flails and some Oomph. This four character, four scene piece can be summed up in two words: mostly meh.
The plot centers on four characters working together on a film. The producer, writer, and two actresses mix and mingle as they connive to cut each other out of the movie, scene by scene, dollar by dollar. It aims to make the statement that Hollywood is heartless, full of backstabbers and money hungry grubs. It does this to a degree, but often seems disingenuous, and it’s hard to tell whether it is the script or the actors causing that.
The show opens on Brenda, played by Anne Vandercook, mugging her way through a practiced monologue about her hard childhood in an attempt to win over her producer, Bradley (Greg Mangiapane). It’s unclear whether the audience is meant to believe Brenda’s tale of woe, because I certainly didn’t believe Vandercook. She and Bradley spar for the better part of a half hour, though it seems as if each is acting out a story in their own box, rather than interacting with another live human sharing their space. And speaking of space, both actors have the impulse to fully use the small but well laid stage, but neither has any strong conviction behind their movement, making their circling of the stage pointless. Perhaps if they were to stay grounded and really look at one another (there is no surplus of eye contact), they could break out of their boxes.
Mangiapane does offer some comic relief in describing an anal ailment but the inconsistency of his physical portrayal almost cancels it out. As he sits down while describing the injury, you can see how pained he is, but moments later he plops down again seemingly carefree. Despite this discrepancy, Mangiapane does display the greatest physical control and specificity in the production, offering some strong, clean gestures toward the end of the play that help to heighten the stakes- which need all the raising they can get.
Four Dogs and a Bone
by John Patrick Shanley
1 hour, 45 minutes
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
Inconsistency is really the name of the game all around, as the second scene in the show had two characters at a restaurant, she dressed to the terribly tacky nines in a black cocktail dress and he cool and casual in jeans and a t-shirt. But at least that scene brought us the first glimpse of the most enjoyable thing in the production: Maria Raquel Ott and her portrayal of Collette, an actress shooting her self-proclaimed last ingenue role. The start of her performance was overt and gruff, but as the scene wore on, she softened and offered some of the most truthful moments of the production.
While the other actors are flailing and eyebrow acting through their feelings, Ott is living them. She is bitingly condescending to Brenda, deeply hurt by Dylan Knewstub’s Victor, and beyond disgusted by Bradley. Her performance cuts through the crap, and her character demands those around her do the same. Collette has been around the block and knows how the movie business runs. She could easily be played as a hardened cynic, but there is a softness to Ott’s performance, and a visible vulnerability when she, or anyone else, talks about the end of her ingenue days and her descent into a world of bit parts.
It is often Victor who draws out Collette’s insecurities. The fact that it took this many paragraphs to delve into Victor just about sums him up. Knewstub’s performance is harmless, forgettable, with little value add. He shows good physicality when playing drunk, but that’s about all that can be said. In what should be a climactic moment in the final scene where the idealistic writer finally becomes jaded, Victor (spoiler alert!) claims not to care about attending his mother’s funeral. In this he seems not ruthless, but disingenuous. He wasn’t moved when describing her sudden death two scenes earlier, so it comes as no surprise that he’d rather work on the movie than see his mother’s burial.
Ott is this show’s saving grace, but it’s hard to carry this much flailing weight. Can all the inconsistencies and meh moments be chalked up to first night jitters? Perhaps, dear Fringe patrons, but I have some doubts.