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A CurtainUp Review
Four Dogs and a Bone

Every picture has its reality. The reality of this picture is that the director is weak and there's like five people fighting for control.— Bradley.
The reality of this premiere production by Berkshire Actors Theatre is that the director, Andrew Volkoff is not weak. What about the actors playing the four dogs fighting for control of the movie that's the" bone" in John Patrick Shanley's 1993 send-up of movie making at its most ridiculous? They portray their dog-eat-dog characters expertly, gleefully extracting every possible laugh from that bone.

Four Dogs and a Bones isn't as psychologically nuanced as Shanley's more serious dramas, like the Pulitzer-winning Doubt. Nor does it have the romantic charm of his hit movie Moonstruck during the making of which he probably became intimately acquainted with movieland's manipulative game playing culture. That said, the zinger-stuffed 90-minute, 2-act comedy offers enough genuinely satirical bite to have had a 230-performance off-off-Broadway run, for Manhattan Theater Club to move it up town for for another 41 performances with a new cast that included Tony Roberts and Mary Louise Parker. As the original production proved that David Mamet's more deeply sour Speed-the-Plow hadn't closed the door to other theatrical riffs about Hollywood's competitive craziness, the new Actor-centric Berkshire Actors Theatre proves that there's still plenty of laugh-inducing meat and marrow on the bone of Shanley's nifty little comedy.

The plot spins out in four scenes. The first three are duets that illustrate various secret alliances (the producer and the all-about-Eve style ingenue, the older star and the script writer, the wannabe upstart and the the star she wants to usurp). The windup, brings the full ensemble on stage. While we never learn just what the movie they're all trying to manipulate to fulfill their personal ambitions, we do know from the getgo that it's hopelessly misdirected, underfunded and overly long — the perfect vehicle to set off the super egotistical foursome's worst behavior.

The small venue above the Beacon Multiplex in Pittsfield that the company is calling home during its initial season is well suited to a modest budget. The scenery doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles but it does boast three set changes that include a prop covered with apt pronouncements like " there's alwauys someone younger and hungrier coming down the steps." Mr. Volkoff not only sees to it that his actors make the most of their roles but enlists them as stage hands to to abet the seamless scene-to-scene shifts.

Clover Bell-Devaney and Deann Simmons Halper, who's the company's artistic director is a riot as Brenda, the ditsy ingenue who's not an actress but "a personality." An inventive prevaricator, she claims a movie star as her brother, dramatizes herself by declaring "I've been incested," and chants" for things she wants. That wishful chanting includes replacing Collette (played with panache by her incredibly fit and sexy looking artistic associate Deann Simmons Halper) and getting script writer Victor (Michael J. Foster) who's abandoned his arts-y off-off-Broadway beat for the sweet smell of silver screen success, to write a bigger scene for her. While the two women are the cast standouts, each ensemble member gets a chance to demonstrate the power play on offer. Daniel Popowich as Bradley, the somewhat too over-the-top manic producer trying to deal with the "straight to the video" headed movie's problems as as painful, odiferous ulcer (a literal pain in butt). He has little respect for Collette and Victor's accomplishments in the theater which he views as "the outback of entertainment." He also has little enthusiasm for the cinematographer who he dubs as a "gadget geek" and "an idiot, I hope savant." The seemingly least opportunistic Victor proves as ready to embrace the film industry's me-me-me mantra, putting off his mother's funeral to make the film his directorial as well as screen writing debut.

The movie or bone around which this extended and very funny sketch revolves is indeed sure to by-pass first-class film outlets like the Beacon multiplex below this new Berkshire stage, but if this production is any indication, the Berkshire Actors Theater can anticipate a much happier future.

Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Cast: Clover Bell-Devaney (Brenda), Michael J. Foster (Victor), Deann Halper (Collette), Daniel Popowich (Bradley)
Set ad props: Brian Prather
Lighting: Jeff Davis
Sound: Brad Berridge
Costume consultant: Arthur Oliver
Stage Manager: Robert Allen
At New Stage Performing Arts Center, 55 North Street, Pittsfield
August 321, 2011
Tickets are $25
Running Time: 90 minutes including one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at August 5th press opening
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