Review: Four Dogs and a Bone, Phoenix Artists Club, Wednesday 3 August 2011

Apparently the movies are a nasty business. This essentially sums up the overarching message of Four Dogs and a Bone, a short satire from John Patrick Shanley that exposes the manipulation, back-stabbing and corruption behind the money-spinning American film industry. So tell us something we didn’t know.

This might all be very familiar – after all, parodies of Hollywood have been making the rounds since Singin’ in the Rain – but there are a few amusing landmarks along the way on Shanley’s journey over well-trodden ground. The four scrapping dogs fighting tooth and claw for the bone of a floundering movie are a jaded producer, a wide-eyed writer and two ambitious actresses, each doing whatever they can to grasp creative control and make their name.

Rock’n’Roll Theatre’s production takes a while to pick up and the first scene is a drab meander through movie-making cliche as a stereotypical money-counting producer, played in suitably slimy style by Daniel O’Meara, is plotting with one of the lead actresses. Amy Tez does her best as the perpetually chanting, compulsively lying Brenda, whose greatest wish in life is to be famous, but the overly long scene falls flat and neither O’Meara or Tez have quite the comic touch to wring out the few laughs in Shanley’s script.

Thankfully it is all uphill from here, with the somewhat lacklustre mood being lifted by the arrival of Laura Pradelska and the excellent Joe Jameson as scheming actress Collette and naive writer Victor respectively. Pradelska’s Collette is a husky voiced seductress prepared to do whatever it takes to save herself from becoming a dreaded ‘character actress’, delivering some of the funniest lines of the play with aplomb and giving the character just enough of a hint of vulnerability.

But it is Jameson who is the real star of the piece, emerging as the glittering diamond in the sometimes rough exterior of this production. His portrayal of the inexperienced Victor is spot on, combining artistic neurosis with appealing vulnerability and adding just the right the subconscious undercurrent of ambition to explains his later actions.

However, while watchable and at times cuttingly funny, there is not quite enough wit or originality to justify raking over this old territory and we are left with the inescapable sense that the play, much like the movie it depicts, lacks any real direction or point.

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