Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"4 Dogs and a Bone": Movie Industry docu-drama fun to laugh at

Cast of Four Dogs and a Bone (Dave Hastings)
Four Dogs and a Bone
Theater Schmeater
Through June 27, 2015

Fame and money in the movies are the bones fought over in John Patrick Shanley’s play, Four Dogs and a Bone. Theater Schmeater is presenting a solidly acted and funny production of this scathing, behind-the-scenes slugfest.

It’s not Shanley’s finest play, and he is said to have written it “in a white hot fury in six days,” which doesn’t bode that well for great writing. But he is a master of fun dialogue and character development. This play is for watching four people with competing interests tear each other up to see who is standing less scathed at the end!

On a bare, flexible set (thankfully, most scene changes are short) by Kasia Rozanska, the play introduces producer Bradley (Paul Custodio), first-time movie actress Brenda (Brenda Joyner), 6-time movie actress Collette (Elinor Gunn) and first-time screenplay writer Victor (Ray Tagavilla). Bradley doesn’t know anything about movies or art, but says he knows money. Brenda doesn’t know anything about acting (!) but knows how to act like she’s acting. Collette knows enough to be wary of Brenda, and they both know enough to try to get each other’s role reduced screen time. Victor doesn’t know about screenplay development, but he knows to watch out for scheming, sex-using actresses.

Don’t expect to like any character on stage. But the acting and over-acting (on purpose) are fun to laugh at. Director Julie Beckman does her best to give the characters a frame to work in, and rein in the excessive vitriol so it dribbles out instead of screams – otherwise the entire thing would be unwatchable. Custodio does the least well in delivering the differentiated levels of dialogue. He stays more on one note than he should.

Gunn, Joyner and Tagavilla make good use of their experience and talent in many shows and theaters around Seattle, and are quite fun to watch. Joyner gets to make quick changes of emotional expression, and wear a terrible wig that she has to take seriously.

Gunn plays the more experienced film actor who has learned that everyone around her is always playing some kind of back-stabbing game, so she waxes wise and skeptical, even as she tries to do her share of seducing men to get her role enlarged.

Tagavilla seems like the guy who is going to get really shafted – the naïf, the lamb to the slaughter, but Shanley gives Victor just enough smarts to avoid getting killed in Shanley’s kill-or-be-killed movie business. Tagavilla’s drunk scene is a lot of laughs.

The movie business is an easy one to lampoon, hurting no one, with lots of bad guys in suits around to skewer. You won’t learn anything about it from this play, nor find any great revelation of understanding of the business or people or anything else. But if you’re looking for something to laugh at, this is your evening.

For more information, go to www.schmeater.org or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1140447 or call 800-838-3006.