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Beauty Versus the Biz

by James Yeara on August 11, 2011

Four Dogs and a Bone
By John Patrick Shanley, directed by Andrew Volkoff, Berkshire Actors Theatre, New Stage Performing Center, Pittsfield, Mass., through Aug. 21

For its innaugural production, Berkshire Actors Theatre presents a stiletto interpretation of John Patrick Shanley’s 1993 smackdown of moviemaking, Four Dogs and a Bone. An Academy Award winner for Moonstruck and a Pulitzer Prize winner for Doubt, Shanley also wrote and directed Joe Versus the Volcano, so he knows the ins and outs, as well as the ups and downs, of filmmaking. He plumbs mostly the downs and outs here to comic effect.  Alexander Volkoff directs BAT’s four-person cast with a light touch in a stripped-to-the-bare-bones, fast-paced production that jolts its way to each of the four scenes.

Bone’s opening line, “My brother’s babysitter used to have sex with him,” bursts out of bouncing brunette Brenda (BAT artistic director Clover Bell-Devaney in a breakout role). She’s all wide-eyed and innocent, showing a lot of cleavage and wrapped around an agenda: Change the film’s script to make her a star. “I’ve been incested,” she cries to the film’s producer, Bradley (Daniel Popowich), who struts, frets, spits, sweats, pounds, and howls his agenda: Cut the script so the film comes in under budget and on time.  “Bear with me Brenda,” Bradley brays repeatedly as their objectives merge in an effort to manipulate scriptwriter Victor (Michael J. Foster, whose deadpan is his over-the-top contribution here) into demoting the aging ingénue Collette (an excellent Deann Simmons Halper) from the film star to dreaded character role.

Victor and Collette share a drink in Bone’s second scene.  The seedy dive restaurant makes the ideal locale for Victor’s depression over the film, the pressure on his script, the director’s lack of direction, his mother’s death, and, most importantly, bemoaning sex with Brenda: “I just want a woman to suck my dick for the joy of sucking my dick,” Victor intones to Collette, whose cleavage-showcasing black leather dress isn’t her only offer to Victor. “You think there’s no woman who wants to suck your dick just to suck your dick? Everything is about something else,” Collette says, leaning across the table at the perfect angle to use all the leverage her ample cleavage affords. Her agenda?  “I’ve done six pictures and this is my last ingénue. . . . I’ve got to be a star or I go right to character actress,” she sobs. “You’re the ingénue?” Victor deadpans with perfect timing.

When Brenda shares a dressing trailer with Collette in the third scene, the battle of the cleavage evolves into a more interesting struggle: the survival of the ego. The actresses playing the actresses are up to the task, and BAT’s Bone becomes “two sharks gnawing meat”  in the production’s best scene.

Though lean, the BAT’s stagecraft is ideal for the space and play. An upstage flat enscribed with iconic moive quotes—“I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride,” “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,” and “But what I really want to do is direct”—is perfectly designed and suited to each of the play’s four scenes.

Alternating a muzak version of “The Girl from Ipanema” with  a mashup of Lady Gaga’s “Judas”  and Madonna’s “Sorry” between the scenes makes for quite a jolt, which is the perfect description of BAT’s Four Dogs and a Bone.