Q44’s production is an intelligent, witty account of sabotage and arrogance in the professional arena.
Xanthe Gunner in Four Dogs and a Bone. Image: Gabriella Rose-Carter.
Four Dogs and a Bone, the latest production from Q44 Theatre, makes a sharp jab at professional egotism. Despite being written by John Patrick Shanley more than 20 years ago, the play’s analysis of corruption on the quest for status remains relevant.
The play details the interactions of four people shooting a film. All of them face turning points in their careers, and all attempt to change the script for their own ends. Several extended scenes between pairs of characters allow them to draw out their relationship dynamics. A dominant thread emerges: Johnny – the lead in the film – can’t die. Although the characters obsessively discuss the film, it is secondary to their desire to propel their careers forward.
Brenda (Xanthe Gunner), a hot-shot young actress, tries to convince Bradley (Kostas Illias), a producer struggling with finances and an open ulcer in his crack, to cut her co-star’s part and re-write her own cameo role. The co-star, Collette (Tania Knight), knows this film is her last chance to break away from character acting, and tries to seduce emerging and somewhat mercenary writer, Victor (William Atkinson), to alter her role – but he is too distracted by financial issues and his mother’s death. Brenda and Collette butt heads in a dressing room while Bradley tries to manipulate Victor. Conflict bubbles and hysteria brims as the rain starts to pour down – a disaster for an already over-budget production that neglected to take out weather insurance.
The script is the central focus in this minimalist production, and it’s all the intimate 3-row theatre needs to get to the point. The set switches between office, dressing room, and a bar with plastic walls to border the sour conversations and a smoke machine to mimic the characters’ delusions. The physical script – its cover plastered plainly in capitals S C R I P T – was the principal prop, appearing in the characters’ hands throughout and reflecting their intentions to control the film’s production.
The four actors aptly performed Shanley’s demanding script and brought forth its satirical intelligence. From the opening moments, the far-off looks in their eyes and minimal body language toward each other conveyed that they weren’t portraying real-life characters within a narrative but, rather, soulless caricatures conveying an underlying thesis. In a little black dress and red lipstick, Brenda’s eyes gleamed as she discussed her ambitions for fame, an ode to her youthful self-interest contrasting against the more seasoned loftiness of Collette and Bradley and the drunken despair of Victor.
The script was performed quickly but the group maintained a rhythmic flow – with a few mishaps. At times, the brisk pace struggled to maintain an engaging dynamic and breathing room. When Brenda asks if they are speaking in code, it felt like a question any audience member may have posed. But once one has settled in, the fun was in catching canny keynotes amongst their cocky chatter. These nonstop dialogues were delivered with a force which lacked emotion. At first glance, this seemed like overeager acting but it was soon apparent their performances were calculated, purposefully punctuated with insincerity and manipulation rather than human depth. Such cold delivery fleshed out Shanley’s satire and gave the play a laugh-out-loud edge.
Director Gabriella Rose-Carter’s thirst to study the human condition, the actors’ portrayal of these unlikable, bad-behaving characters and Shanley’s clever writing crafted an intelligent, witty account of sabotage and arrogance in the professional arena. As someone who hates workplace competitiveness, I was squirming in my seat whilst revelling at the opportunity to look square in the face of the gross ambition – without an inch of moral compass to keep it covered – that is prevalent in workplaces under capitalism, not only in Hollywood but across the world.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Four Dogs and a Bone
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Gabriella Rose-Carter
Bradley – Kostas Illias
Collette – Tania Knight
Victor – William Atkinson
Brenda – Xanthe Gunner
9-26 May 2019
Q44 Theatre, Abbotsford VIC