Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Andrew Volkoff.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"You’re just another piece of meat to me."
Hollywood returns to the stage and the sharks are biting the whales who are swallowing the unicorns who have speared the mudlarks. In his four character play about Hollywood on the Hudson, "Four Dogs and a Bone" Manhattan Theatre Club alumnus John Patrick Shanley sticks it to the moguls, the stars, the starlets, the screenwriters and the directors (off-stage and unseen as usual).
In its initial appearance, after a 1993, 41 performance trial starring Tony Roberts and Mary-Louise Parker it moved later in 1993 to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s rented space - the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village. It ran 230 performances, and featured Polly Draper and Peter Jacobson and understudy/replacements Debra Messing, Cynthia Watros, Alan Arkin, Kim Zimmer, Ann Magnuson, Reg Rogers and Grant Shaud (just about every soap opera star with a short story that year). It was directed by the author.
It has been a very often staged piece in schools and regional theaters, partly due to its short 90 minute length with intermission and partly due to the accessibility of its tale. It is the story of a young playwright, Victor, who has penned a film script being shot in New York and the two women who want to control everything. One is a performer (unspecified genre) who has abandoned the west coast and the other an older NY stage actress making her sixth film, neither one wanting to admit that the other could be the lead. Five years earlier, in 1987, young playwright Shanley had been drafted for a film script shot in NY with two actresses, Cher - in an early film role having left her husband in Hollywood shortly before, and Olympia Dukakis coming off a long line of successful stage performances in New York and with her own company in New Jersey. Seeing the play and knowing all this makes one wonder about its comic realities.
The cast in Pittsfield are local and the designers and technicians are also for the most part. Director Andrew Volkoff has been working in the Berkshires for over a decade, lighting designer Jeff Davis has made this his home for a great many years, set and props designer Brian Prather is a fixture at Barrington Stage Company and Enrico Spada, the new company’s marketing consultant is, along with Associate Producer David Joseph, a fixture at Shakespeare and Company as is the costume designer Arthur Oliver. Everyone has done a good job in the difficult and restricted black box space of New Stages above the cinema on North Street.
Volkoff has directed his company well, always giving them the comedy alternative to the tragic one. He and his players juggle the rhythms of the work well and the show is both easy to watch and understand and a pleasure to go along with as its characters plummet out of the gray skies they work under to the softly padded earth below.
The most honest and open of the players is Michael J. Foster as Victor, the playwright. Foster has a natural style that lets us believe even the silliest of rationales - his mother’s death and funeral are not attended to because work calls - as he moves onward and upward in the convoluted world of film-making.
His two female co-workers are in the hands of Clover Bell-Devaney as Brenda, the younger actress, and Deann Halper as Collette, the stage-oriented star. Bell-Devaney serves her character well, sometimes almost dropping her onto the invisible silver platter, as she elbows her way to fame and stardom. Halper, on the other hand, works her way from broad strokes to subtleties and back again, sometimes in the course of a single simple dialogue. She plays the character of the aging star with almost as much passion as Garbo might have employed. It give an additional layer of good humor to the proceedings.
The producer of the film, a bottom-line obsessed megalomaniac named Bradley, is played beautifully by Daniel Popowich. With his swiftly advancing invasive growth on everybody’s mind, Bradley - in Popowich’s hands - makes points even when there are none to make.
All in all the company, in its first production, makes a solid impact on the summer scene with a play you might see elsewhere but can comfortably see here and now.
Daniel Popowich and Clover Bell-Devaney; photo: provided
Deann Halper and Michael J. Foster; photo: provided
Four Dogs and a Bone plays through August 21 at the New Stage at 55 North Street in Pittsfield MA. For information and tickets go to www.berkshireactorstheatre.org.