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Oh Nasty, Funny Hollywood

Berkshire Actors Theatre, a new group in Pittsfield, MA, has launched itself like a rocket with a terrific production of “Four Dogs and a Bone,” John Patrick Shanley’s acerbic look at Hollywood filmmaking and the self-centered, grasping, needy people behind it. Really more sketch than fully fashioned play, “Dogs” doubtless recalls Shanley’s unhappy experience directing “Joe and the Volcano,” a film flop based on his own screenplay. (He had several years earlier won an Oscar for his “Moonstruck” screenplay.) This is a very, very funny, 90-minute satire filled with machine-gun dialogue, self-pitying monologues and non-stop malevolence. In the hands of a talented cast with perfect comedic timing, it’s great fun. The dogs of the title are two actresses, a producer and a first-time screenwriter, each of whom is trying to wrest control of a pitifully underfunded film being shot on the streets of New York by a weak — at least that’s how he is described — unseen director. The producer and the actresses each try to seduce or cajole or threaten the screenwriter to make changes that meet their own agendas. The producer needs to save money and make a hit; each actress wants to end up with the larger part. As Collette, the seriously over-the-hill ingenue, Deann Halper is a fit, nasty, heavy drinker who hurls zingers like thunderbolts. Clover Bell-Devaney’s Brenda, the true ingenue sleeping with the screenwriter and anyone else who can further her career, uses “incest” as a verb in repeatedly telling the story of her life and alternates between faked innocence and bitchery. Daniel Popowich plays Bradley, the producer, with increasing histrionics as his desperation grows. And Michael J. Foster’s screenwriter Victor moves from wary detachment and naiveté to controlling authority at the end. Andrew Volkoff’s direction stresses clarity, tightness and timing. The cast plays off each other like billiard balls, crashing against one another, rolling away, then rushing in again. Timing is impeccable, inflections just right. The snarl is almost palpable. It’s a grand evening of superb acting and acidic fun. “Four Dogs and a Bone” runs at New Stage Performing Arts, 55 North St. in Pittsfield, MA, through Aug. 21. Call 413 347-9849 or go to www.berkshireactorstheatre.org for tickets.

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