American playwright John Patrick Shanley’s play FOUR DOGS AND A BONE (1993) is theatrical take on a filmic confection. There are only four scenes in the play, four characters and the bone of the title is the unnamed film in which they are all involved.
We are introduced to an evidently West Coast airhead actress, Brenda (Melinda Dransfield) discussing her current film with the producer, Bradley (Sonny Vrebac). Brenda’s famous step brother is one of the main topics of conversation. What he and his friends can do for the film. Brenda name drops a famous family friend with whom she has script consulted and she has copious notes on how to fix the movie. Brenda and Bradley agree that the best solution is to reduce the role played by Collette (Amanda Collins). Collette meanwhile has engineered a drunken meeting with Victor, (Paul Gerrard) the writer. He has just lost his mother and is depressed, loveless and verklempt. Collette and Victor agree that the best solution is to reduce the role played by Brenda.
On the page, this play ranges from the high art of Kabuki references to physical humour like a cat fight and an ulcerous butt. The text is full of movie jargon. The power of a Disney contract, the dilemma of an aging ingénue fearful of becoming a character actress and ever-present shadow of the suits who can send the film straight to DVD.
The director (Kate Gaul) has chosen to keep it light, fluffy even. The situation, settings and characters are easily accessible by the audience. The funny lines are enough to keep us entertained and the ending sends us home with a blockbuster frown, wondering if any part of our lives involve fighting over some pointless bone?
It could be more but with little to support the cast by way of set, costume or props the director makes a sensible choice. If we were wanting more accoutrement, the mention of Aeschylus in the text reminds us that the origins of the theatre had nothing fancy. Mind you, the cast really could have benefitted from a closeup or cutaway. In the theatre that is usually the job of the lighting. In this venue that would be an impossible task so the audience must tune in to the cast and stay with them through some very static and wordy scenes.
The female cast bring their characters on with them. Melinda Dransfield has a powerful voice which she manages to imbue with the tones and cadences of a dilettante New Ager ready to break into a chant any minute. Amanda Collins affects the ‘bounce off the back wall’ throaty attitude of the soubrette who has clawed her way up. The male characters take longer to appear and this is partly a problem of the script. The character of Bradley seems to be written for a different play and Victor has too many writer stereotypes to pull from under.
There was lots of laughter, mine included, FOUR DOGS AND A BONE is a Brief Candle production in association with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company as party of the Sydney Fringe. It’s playing at the Old Fitroy Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo until the 27th of September.