Saw a new play tonight by one of my favorite playwrights, John Patrick Shanley, at Theater Schmeater in Seattle. It is called Four Dogs and a Bone and it follows the story of a screenplay being filmed in Hollywood. I note the screenplay as the focus, because it really was a character in this funny, witty play. It is the thing that each character wants to control in this play in one way or another.
There are two actresses (Brenda and Collette played by Brenda Joyner and Elinor Gunn, respectively) who both fashion themselves the star of the show and desperately want the screenplay to feature them as the lead. There’s a producer (Bradley played by Paul Custodio) who wants the screenplay cut down to something that can be filmed on, or better yet, under budget. And finally the screen writer (Victor, played by Ray Tagavilla) who just wants this screenplay, his first screenplay, to be a hit and get mass distribution. The stakes are high for them all, and each actor attacks their intention differently.
Mr. Custodio was appropriately sleazy and skeezy as the penny pinching producer. Shanley’s dialogue for this character is deliciously raunchy and disgusting, and Mr. Custodio embraces this with gusto! I believed every pain in the ass moment he created (and you’re just going to have to go see it to understand that reference!).
Both Ms. Joyner and Ms. Gunn went after their intentions with the passion of a desperate actress just trying to be liked by, ya know, the entire world. Ms. Joyner’s Brenda, a newcomer to the business, was a lovely mixture of naiveté and ruthless moves, all rolled into a lovable neurotic newbie and you can’t help but understand her desperation of trying to break into the business beast of Hollywood as best she can. Ms. Gunn’s Collette, on the other hand, is the stereotypical stage actress trying to make her career transition to film, and is placing all her chips on this one bet that this movie will make her a leading actress. Colette is the Ivy to Brenda’s Karen (yes, I just used a Smash reference, deal with it), and both are so ridiculous, I found myself hoping Victor would just write them both out of the film. Both women committed to their characters beautifully, and the contrast between the two kept me laughing throughout the show!
But the shining star of this production is Mr. Tagavilla. His Victor had both depth and charisma as the fledgling playwright hoping for a hit with this movie. Victor is the only character who has a significant arc and takes a journey in this play, and was a pleasure to take that journey with Mr. Tagavilla. His comedic timing, his line delivery (to quote my friend who went as my +1 tonight, “Saying ‘suck my dick’ that many times and could have gotten really crass and ridiculous, but he just made every time he said it more hilarious than the time before.” People, this alone should have you rushing to buy tickets right now!), and his ability to stealthily maneuver from moment to moment in every scene he was in showed that Mr. Tagavilla is on a whole other level than the rest of the cast. While they were good, he was great! Mr. Shanley’s final lines for Victor could have ended up quite cheesy in the hands of a less skilled actor, but Mr. Tagavilla had me staring up into that bright light of the possibility of success thinking, “Yes, Victor! You will get everything you want and more! Johnny lives!!”
Overall, the direction, design, and timing were all tight and effective. The pacing is perfect, the costumes fantastic, and the soundtrack outstanding! Watching Ms. Gunn try to seduce Mr. Tagavilla while Big Poppa played in the background was my favorite scene in the show and made my heart soar! Brilliant choices all around!
This isn’t a groundbreaking play. It will not leave you with some deep meaningful morale to take away and ponder over late night happy hour drinks. It will, however, make you laugh and entertain the hell out of you, so I highly recommend you go see this gem.
Four Dogs and a Bone plays through June 27th and show and ticket information can be found on Theater Schmeater’s Website
Highly entertained! Loved it! Go see it!
Ciao for now,
Photos from Theater Schmeater’s Facebook page