Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 16 – 27, 2014
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Amanda Collins, Melinda Dransfield, Paul Gerrard, Sonny Vrebac
Image by Katy Green-Loughrey
There are four actors and only four scenes in John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs And A Bone. It is a work about horrible people trying to make a film, and their self-serving manipulations to change the film to their advantage. The personalities are thoroughly caricatured, and the script derives its humour from their absurd behaviour.
Performances are uneven in the production. The first scene features the stronger players Melinda Dransfield and Sonny Vrebac kicking off with some promise. Brenda is a starlet who lies and sleeps her way up the career ladder. Dransfield has moments of brilliance in the role and delivers laughter with a more subtle approach than her cohorts. Sonny Vrebac plays the film’s penny-pinching producer Bradley, who is so highly strung that he develops a canker sore the size of a jumbo shrimp in his rectum. Vrebac’s comedy is the most consistent in the piece, and the personal narrative he is able to communicate for his character is clearest in the group. Vrebacg’s vibrancy is an asset to the production, and the slump in energy levels is noticeable in scenes without him.
Chemistry between actors is an issue that seems to arise from their focus on individual styles. We do not see a sense of cohesion, which results in missed opportunities for laughter and amusement. Amanda Collins focuses her efforts on creating a snake-like persona for Collette but does not manufacture enough substance for her story to resonate. It is noteworthy however, that she displays good commitment and focus, and leaves a memorable impression with a flamboyant display of devastation from being described as a “character actor”. Paul Gerrard as Victor, the screenwriter for the film, tends to underplay his role, allowing his more extravagant colleagues to overwhelm his work, but he does have a solid presence that gives the show a firm grounding.
This is a staging that does not quite take off until its final scene. Economic realities mean that much of what we see in the theatre can be revealed too early in the creative process, and opening night of Four Dogs And A Bone feels prematurely presented. Art strives for an imagined notion of perfection, but no art of great merit is created in an idealistic environment without challenges that need to be overcome. The factor of time and the practicalities of money can be cruel to artists, but they are also what compels us to hold their work in great esteem.