Backstabbing, greed and the pursuit of fame are just a few of the issues in John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone. The four dogs are two actresses (Brenda and Collette), a producer (Bradley) and the screenwriter (Victor). The bone is their new film collaboration, and each of these greedy Hollywood types is vying for creative control. And they aren’t about to let morals or loyalty distract them from their goal. In the opening scene, Bradley tells Brenda “Sometimes character is an obstacle to overcome.” The play is a simultaneously dark and comic commentary on succeeding in the movie business. To see Four Dogs and a Bone is to spend 90 minutes watching desperate and slightly depraved individuals navigate their way through the underbelly of Hollywood filmmaking. Local audiences will have that chance when Pumpernickel Productions presents Four Dogs and a Bone at the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival starting next week.
I spoke with Maria Raquel Ott (Collette) about the production, her character and her work with Pumpernickel Productions. Maria is currently living in Germany and working with Theatre Language Studio in Frankfurt, but she has returned to D.C. to work on this show. Maria and two of her cast members had worked together on Beyond Therapy in the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival, and they wanted to present another dark comedy. Anne Vandercook (Brenda) and Maria both loved Shanley’s work, and they decided that Four Dogs and a Bone would be ideal for the Fringe Festival. Maria recounts reactions from previous audiences, “My prior with Fringe audiences is that they’re really on; they catch the nuances, they understand the tongue in cheek references.” Four Dogs and a Bone is filled with self-effacing remarks about actors, producers, Hollywood and audiences.
Director Kevin Sockwell describes it as a “mixture of drama and comedy” that moves along quickly. Although Kevin has directed approximately 80 shows, this is his first time directing at the Capital Fringe Festival. “Having been to a number of Fringe shows in the past, it’s kind of fun to be on this side of it” he muses. Kevin ensures that his actors understand how bold and bare Shanley’s text is. Both Kevin and Maria are intrigued by how frankly the characters speak. “Our director says this play has very little subtext because these characters are so gosh darn blunt about what they want” Maria laughs.
Actors playing actors is certainly meta. Does this make character work easier or far more difficult? I ask Maria what she particularly enjoys about this show and what character work or research she has done. At the start of the rehearsal process, she tells me she couldn’t do some of the scenes without laughing out loud at the humor and the character interactions. “These scenes are dense with that biting commentary” she tells me. To play Collette, she has scoured the script for clues and concluded that “it begged for something New York.” Maria sees Collette as a Brooklyn girl who is fighting to lose her distinct accent, but she hasn’t completely disposed of it yet. She tells me that Collette sees herself as a sophisticated stage actress just breaking into Hollywood. Yet she’s “still a bit of a broad.” Besides his plays, Shanley has written several Hollywood screenplays including Doubt, Joe Versus the Volcano and Moonstruck. Maria turned to interviews with the actors in these movies to get a better handle on their personalities. She also spoke to several documentary filmmakers about their experience and whether her interpretations were realistic.
So how does this cast work together, and what are they learning about each other? Maria explains that the final scene is the first time we see more than two of these four characters onstage at the same time. She enjoys this dynamic, “with our most raw emotions, our desperation gone amok.” Kevin and Maria speak highly of Anne, Greg Mangiapane (playing Bradley) and Dylan Knewstub (playing Victor). Kevin notes that one of the actors had plenty of training but very little experience. He described what a rewarding moment it is for a director to be able to tell an actor “Your training is paying off—you should go audition for more shows!” When Maria describes her fellow actors’ onstage energy and timing, we chuckle about the stark contrast between Maria and her character, Collette. Collette spends most of the play trying to sabotage Brenda, but Maria is dedicated to a cooperative process. She commends the script for providing them with a truly ensemble show. Yes, the irony is both palpable and delicious.
Unlike many Fringe Festival shows, Four Dogs and a Bone is a published and previously performed play. Pumpernickel Productions is excited to bring Shanley’s play to the 2014 Fringe Festival. Maria describes the cast’s interest in portraying Shanley’s dark humor and comedy. For theatregoers who love biting wit and deprecating humor, Four Dogs and a Bone is an apt blend of film criticism and entertaining cautionary tale about the moviemaking business.
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