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Four Dogs and a Bone

Goethe-Institut Mainstage

Remaining performances: July 11 at 3 p.m.; July 12 at 1 p.m.; July 25 at 8:30 p.m.

They say: How many butts do you have to sniff to claim top dog in Hollywood? John Patrick Shanley’s fast past romp through Hollywood’s flea-bitten underbelly.

Annie’s take: Entering a play that paints a warts-and-all (quite literally—-I’ll get to that later) portrait of four megalomaniacal Hollywood prototypes in a humble-ticket-prices-and-all Fringe Festival smacks, at first glance, of self-righteous finger-pointing. However, when the script is outstanding and the acting can do it justice, the production inspires a rather fresh rumination on both the craft of making theater and its participants’ often harebrained motivations for doing so. Throw a couple of tables, liquor bottles, makeup cases, and low-res, scene-establishing screen projections into a tiny theater, add four characters spouting metaphor-laden lines intended to screw one another over, and you’ve got yourself a pretty compelling show.

John Patrick Shanley, whose mantelpiece might or might not display his Oscar (Moonstruck, 1988), Pulitzer (Doubt, 2005) and Tony (also for Doubt), delivers a script that both toys with and ultimately, subverts the audience’s conceptions of the four characters. Upon first acquaintance, each of them seems a bit shopworn: the sleazy producer, Bradley; the fame-hungry young seductress, Brenda; the neurotic screenwriter, Victor; and the ingenue-turned-character-actress, Collette. Together they attempt to make a movie that will launch them into the coveted galaxy of Hollywood stardom. Of the four, the latter is the least intriguing: predictably, the realization that her wiles have failed to produce the desired outcome propels her into a hair-yanking hissyfit.

The most compelling action comes to circulate around the interplay between Victor (Graham Pilato)—-who deserves additional props for a fine drunken drawl—-and Bradley (Keith Waters), plagued throughout the play by a crustaceon-sized sore in his nether-regions. Initially painted as the sincere puppy in the dog pen, Victor’s writerly obligations—-to comely Brenda, to the necessity of working through some Freudian family issues—-are shaken as Bradley insinuates that success, in Hollywood, comes at the price of integrity. Sounds clichéd, yes? Fair enough, but the superbly acted dialogue between the two that ends the show manages to leave a central question unanswered. “It’s not about the money,” Bradley proclaims, without offering a closing alternative. Walking at once of a staged Hollywood office and a cramped Fringe venue, the question tends to linger….

See it if: Having lived under a rock for the past few decades, you have yet to discover that Hollywood is home to some smarmy, duplicitous douchebags.

Skip it if: The sight of a used dressing for an internal sore “the size of a Dungeness crab” in an onstage trash can could potentially turn your stomach.