Four Dogs and a Bone, Groundswell Theatre Company, at Voltaire. With its hokey cliches, highly sanitized situations, and hastily drawn conclusions, John Patrick Shanley’s writing is perfect grist for the Hollywood mill. In fact he won an Academy Award for the 1987 film Moonstruck, but the bitter, sullen tone of his Four Dogs and a Bone suggests that his first foray into screenwriting was no bed of roses.

Shanley goes to great lengths to depict the central character, a playwright turned screenwriter, as the hapless victim of industry evil. At every turn, Victor is undermined by the machinations of a money-grubbing producer and a pair of conniving actresses. We’re supposed to feel that by selling out, sacrificing himself on the altar of screenwriting, Victor has somehow become a martyr to the cause of true art (playwriting). But Shanley isn’t so much biting the hand that feeds him as he is gnawing it with dull baby teeth, with results that are more monotonous than subversive.

Which is a shame, given the remarkable strengths of Ground-swell’s modest production. The direction and acting alike show a flair for the rapid-fire delivery necessary to keep Shanley’s dialogue crisp, and the cast–especially Katherine Ripley as the dried-up stage actress Collette–consistently reach beyond the limitations of their characters. But though the performers add edginess and much-needed comic weight to otherwise shallow stereotypes, ultimately all their efforts to breathe life into this juvenile piece of claptrap are wasted. –Nick Green