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Jun082011

Ithaca Times - Jun 8, '11: Four Dogs and a Bone

Funny ‘Bone’: Actor’s Workshop Theatre Company takes on John Patrick Shanley

by Luke Fenchel

The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca Theatre Company, who in their first season have excelled in the business of entertainment for the under 40 set, has decided to turn to the entertainment business for the last full show of the year. While earlier plays have included a psycho-sexual drama, a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a politically charged dramatic monologue and an absurdist fantasy, their latest offering is John Patrick Shanley's "Four Dogs and a Bone." For a company that has spent the better part of a year pushing boundaries, Shanley's satire about Hollywood in New York seems if not toothless, then certainly tame in comparison. Of course, what's more mellow for the workshop, who will mount the play at Risley Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, and at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 10-11, is at the extreme of what any other upstate New York group might consider.

The brisk hour and a half two act centers on two female actors - one more experienced than the other - a sleazy male producer and a naïve first time screenwriter. Barbed with juicy bits of dialogue like "it's grotesque Kabuki!" and "an idiot, I hope, savant," the play promises to be better than whatever's at your local multiplex.

Tickets are $15 in advance ($10 for students and seniors), $25 at the door. Sponsored by Madeline's and Delilah's on Cayuga, both on the Commons. Visitwww.actorsworkshop.biz to learn more

The cast features Eliza VanCort, Chris Teitelbaum, David Kossack and Melissa Bergman. Co-Director VanCort was reached by email.

Q: Have you seen "Four Dogs and A Bone" produced before, and/or have you performed/directed it?

Eliza VanCort: I've never done this play before and it's funny: I think when I was younger I would have loved to have played Brenda. But now I have to say, I'm thrilled to be playing the freaked out aging ingénue Colette. She's such a bulldozer. Nothing gets in her way. There are so many male characters in plays who have her take no prisoners attitude and I could kiss Shanley for creating such a powerful female role for a woman my age to play. I just turned forty and let me tell you, there aren't a lot of roles for women my age as juicy as Colette out there!

I also think Colette's the most honest character in the show and I love that about her. After this show I plan to take a major break from stage acting for a while and focus on film and directing so I can have more time with my family. (Shooting films just takes less time that rehearsing and performing in a show!) Acting, directing and producing our shows is fun, but it's a major time sucker! I really just don't want to do all three again until my kids get a bit older. I'm glad the last character I'm going to do for a few years is Colette.

Q: The play at least reads to me as a satire, but the characters aren't caricatures. Why did you decide to pick this up as the last full play of the first season of the Actor's Workshop?

Eliza VanCort: Well, I actually I came across this play when I was looking for a play for (fellow A.W. instructor) Katie (Spallone) and I to do to kick off our first full season of shows. As I read it I realized it was all wrong for the two of us. Katie loves drama, and this isn't a drama, and I'm way to old to play Brenda and I don't think Katie would like playing Colette! But I fell in love with the characters in the show. The character work is just sooooo juicy!

As I was reading it I saw David playing Bradley and I also knew the two of us worked really well together, and since we only have a part of one scene together, I thought it might be fun to co-direct. He read the play with me one day in the studio, got this smile on his face and said, "OK, I'll do it!" I was so happy because I can't see anyone else inhabiting Bradley like he is. Chris [Teitelbaum] is having a ton of fun chewing scenery with Bradley. Melissa, bless her, stepped into the role at the last minute when we lost our original Brenda and she's destroying the part. She got the script last week, was off book in under two days and knows her blocking better than I do! She's a pro and very funny. So she went from playing Poona ...to playing Brenda.  

In terms of why I chose this play beyond loving the characters, I really wanted something in this season for everyone. We've done relationship dramas, political pieces, a huge farce, and now we're doing "Four Dogs," which I feel is really a more mainstream piece any theatergoer who likes to laugh will love. It really rounds out our season!