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Four Dogs and Bone

Photo by Katy Green-Loughrey

Brief Candle Productions in association with Sydney Independent Theatre Company (SITCO), as part of Sydney Fringe 2014, presents, FOUR DOGS AND A BONE by John Patrick Shanley, at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo. 16 – 27 September.

FOUR DOGS AND A BONE is a short four scene satire about the Hollywood movie machine from 1993. It has two ‘mean’ ambitious actresses, one calculatingly ‘ditzy’, the other ‘ageing’, pitched against each other; and two mendacious, stupid and/or greedy production guys, one the money guy, the other the writer guy, all chewing the bone for fame and money. Four dogs – Brenda (Melinda Dransfield); Collette (Amanda Collins); Bradley (Sonny Vrebac) and Victor (Paul Gerrard), and a bone – the movie. (Could it be Mr Shanley’s 1990 ‘epic’, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, that is the source of inspiration?! He has been involved with nine of them.)

Satire is hard. The last show here, the political satire, THE GOD OF HELL, by Sam Shepard is a case of point. Deliberate comic satire is harder, still. Ask the company who dared to play with Christopher Durang and his WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM at the New Theatre, earlier this year. It either works from the start, or, it never will. This production doesn’t, really, get off the ground, and it never worked – at least, at the Old Fitz, on opening night.

The look and movement/staging by Kate Gaul, is the best thing about this production: a very engaging pop-hip-design in primary colours – bright yellow and dazzle blue – (no designer acknowledged), and lit with some attractive elan by Benjamin Brockman, with some perky music cues. For, the actors labour, really labour, to get the machine of Mr Shanley’s play off the ground. Mr Vrebac knows what is needed but struggles to lift the work into gear, and as he is only one wheel on this four wheeled ‘vehicle’, fails to do so.

The other three have created comic characters, some more/some less well, but have not developed them to serve the action of the writing. The character is their task, it seems. The playing of the play is not their thing. However, Basic Acting Class Technique 101 should have told them that what the character ‘says’ and ‘does’ in the ‘given circumstances’ they find themselves in, reveals the character, and that an externalised collection of inventive characteristics and costume is not enough. There is no story-telling going on here, so, no sense of calculated passionate need/objective at all to reveal the characters in action. There is no basic craft work going. The character appearances they’ve created are the sum total of their effort – boring for us audience, once you’ve got it, and we get it the second after they each arrived. This short play still went on for nearly 70 minutes. (70 x 6o is 4,200 seconds left approx.) If there is no real connection between the actors, or, to the machinations/mechanisation’s of the writer, boredom, nay, petrification, sets in.

The last play I saw of Mr Shanley’s was a production of THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW, at the Tap Gallery, late last year, and was pleasantly surprised. That play is difficult, too. The acting, there, was, however, first rate. Mr Shanley needs that support to succeed with this trifle of a play and maybe he had it when this play premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1993, for it ran there for 230 performances!

FOUR DOGS AND A BONE at the Old Fitz, for friends and family only, I think.