Four Dogs and A Bone

Four Dogs and A Bone
By John Patrick Shanley. Brief Candle Productions. Directed by Kate Gaul. Sydney Fringe. Old Fitzroy Theatre (NSW). September 16 – 27, 2014.

John Patrick Shanley makes no mistakes in this witty one act satire of the movie business. Though it is biting and cruelly critical it is also very funny – and that’s probably why it ran for 230 performances when it premiered in New York in 1993.

The ‘four dogs’, actors Brenda and Collette, producer Bradley and first-time screenplay writer, Victor scheme and fight over the ‘bone’ that is the movie. Brenda and Collette both want to star. Bradley wants to cut expenses. All three want to convince Victor to cut scenes and re-write the script.

Shanley establishes the characters quickly and succinctly in tellingly natural dialogue – short sentences, quick ripostes, fast reactions – that makes the situation and their intent blisteringly clear. And Kate Gaul’s direction is just as sure and succinct.

There is not an ounce of fat in this production. The direction and the set are as tight and economic as the script. The stage is framed simply in blue and yellow. A round table and bar stools establish the setting for the first scene. Small props are cunningly removed or brought on in subtle three-cue light changes (lighting designer Benjamin Brockman) that really impress.

Not a scene or a scene change in this production takes any longer than is absolutely necessary. Gaul’s committed, consistent ensemble doesn’t miss a beat. They feint and parry, flatter and abuse and constantly backstab each other as the pace of their tug-of-war grows. In their hands, under Gaul’s deft and tight direction, they bring Shanley’s mocking characters to snarling life.

Sonny Vrebac and Melinda Dransfield open the play as Bradley and Brenda, establishing from the very beginning the punch and pace of the play.

Vrebac finds all the scheming experience and oiliness that Bradley has developed in his career as a producer. His wide-eyed gaze and tight movements symbolise the guile and ruthlessness of the character – and his comic timing makes the most of some very funny lines and situations.

Despite the fact that Brenda is easily flattered, she is very ambitious and not at all averse to using lies and guile herself. Dransfield uses very expressive eyes and vocal variation to establish this. Her reactions are carefully studied and beautifully timed – and she has the audience engaged from her first line – “I’ve been incested.” – to her loud and sonorous chanting.

Amanda Collins is admirably bitchy as Collette. Once again, the cunning and callousness of the character are clear and strong from the outset, and Collins never loses the pace and vigour that are essential for this character.

Victor is the dupable puppy to these manipulating mastiffs! Through slightly erratic gesture and excellent use of tempo and pause, Paul Gerrard makes Victor innocently gullible, charmingly believable, even lovable – a beautiful balance to the three conspirators who are tearing at his bone.

Brief Candle Productions have made good choices for this their debut performance: a very funny and well-written play, an experienced and creative director and a committed, talented cast. This is a production that should be seen by a much bigger audience that the Old Fitzroy will accommodate!

Carol Wimmer

Photos by Katy Green Loughrey

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