Four Dogs and a Bone

By John Patrick Shanley. Directed by
LT Speir. A Silly Monkey Productions presentation.

At the Havana Theatre until Sunday, May 30

Under LT Speir's direction, this production of John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone is louder than it should be and not as funny.

Comedy is notoriously difficult to play because you have to find the right balance between emotional truth and hilarious spin. In Four Dogs, Shanley lays the groundwork for the laughs. With this script, even more than with most, it's the actors' job to find the bottom end, the authenticity.

Besides being a popular American playwright, Shanley has written several screenplays, including those for Five Corners and Moonstruck. With Four Dogs, he takes the mickey out of the narcissistic, money-grubbing world of Hollywood. That means all of the characters have enormous appetites, and that's good because comedy loves to ridicule excess. Bradley is a bullying, manipulative producer who can't see past the bottom line and has a running sore on his rectum "the size of a Dungeness crab". Brenda, a wannabe starlet, embodies Tinseltown's suspect spirituality: she chants for possessions and career advancement. She is also sleeping with Victor, the writer, in the hope that he will pad her part. Collette, a slightly older actor desperate to maintain her cachet, tries to seduce Victor with the same goal in mind. The poor scribe, the straight guy to all of these lunatics, just wants to get his script done.

Shanley has provided the appetites, the situation, and the jokes; it's up to the performers to make their characters' journeys through all of this varied, interesting, and credible.

Darla Vandenbossche (Collette) shows us how not to do it. Vandenbossche can make people chuckle, but that's not the same as being an effective comic actor. Although she has a fine sense of rhythm, she also pulls faces and too often uses the trick of suddenly changing her vocal tone. Under Speirs's direction, there's way too much yelling in this show, and Vandenbossche is the most relentless offender.

Alberta Mayne does a lot better as Brenda. In Mayne's interpretation, Brenda's body parts are in constantly rolling, seductive motion and that's fun for a while. Mayne's portrait is also admirably alive and responsive; this is the supplest work she's done so far. But making Brenda an airhead, as Mayne does here, is a pretty obvious choice. The dumb-girl humour is already in the lines and the bimbo thing can turn into a one-note joke. The real interest in Brenda lies in her cunning, calculating nature. Mayne doesn't ignore that side of the character, but she doesn't use it as her baseline, either--a tack I've seen work in other productions of this script.

Actor Reg Tupper seems to understand the importance of staying contained within his character's emotional core. Tupper inhabits Bradley's tough manipulativeness without commenting on it. His performance is far from low-key, but it is authentic.

Blaine Anderson is also generally successful as Victor. Mostly, Anderson underplays his role nicely, allowing the absurdity of the situation to speak for itself. He does a bit too much heavy breathing, however.

As is often the case with Silly Monkey Productions, the technical values are virtually nonexistent. I wish the troupe could make simple sets look stylish instead of cheap.

There's talent in this young company, but if its members want to grow, they're going to have to make a point of working with directors who are more sophisticated than the acting ensemble is at the moment.

Man Woman Flower

By Dan LaRocque. Directed by SG Lee. A William Davis Centre presentation.


By Tanya Barfield, Michael Bigelow Dixon, Julie Jensen, Honour Kane, Sunil Kuruvilla, David Lindsay-Abaire, Victor Lodato, Quincy Long, Deb Margolin, Allison Moore, Lynn Nottage, Dan O'Brien, Val Smith, Annie Weisman, and Craig Wright. Directed by SG Lee. A William Davis Centre presentation.

At Studio 16 on May 20. No remaining performances