The difference is alarmingly clear. "Get Shorty" bends over backwards to exploit the comedy, largely because the tired portrayal of amoral and unethical Hollywood types no longer makes for scintillating drama. Like a hefty

The difference is alarmingly clear. “Get Shorty” bends over backwards to exploit the comedy, largely because the tired portrayal of amoral and unethical Hollywood types no longer makes for scintillating drama. Like a hefty

caged orangutan, this genre can only be gawked at with an occasional laugh, say, when it scratches itself.

However, Shanley seems torn between digging deeply into the souls of his four dogs — a producer, a writer and two scrapping actresses — and letting them get afew yuks. The “bone” is who will get control over a low-budget indie pic that’s shooting somewhere in the Bronx.

But the stakes are so low that it ultimately doesn’t really matter who gets control. By the end, when one emerges as the winner, nothing has changed for any of them. Maybe that’s his point, but it only serves to elicit a huge “who cares?” on the way out.

Perhaps that’s why film director Lawrence Kasdan, in his pro legit debut as a helmer, keeps the play light in tone, rather than pushing his actors to plumb murky dramatic depths. Kasdan and producer Gilbert Cates have cast it with a passel of film stars — Martin Short, Brendan Fraser, Parker Posey and Elizabeth Perkins — all of whom are, if not perfect, very funny.

Perkins brings the most life to the production as Collette, the washed-up ingenue who is fighting to keep scribe Victor (Fraser) from cutting her dwindling part. In her uniquely deadpan monotone, Perkins finds luscious deliveries.

Short is unfortunately miscast as Bradley, the manic producer plagued by rectal ulcers “the size of a jumbo shrimp.” He brings his typical physical humor to the role, staggering about the stage, unable to sit. It makes for laughs, but doesn’t play within the context of the piece.

Fraser offers a low-key, befuddled demeanor for Victor, Camus-like in his depression at his mother’s death. He, too, utters some of Shanley’s prose with a relish. “I’m not a romantic. I used to be, prior to joining the Writers Guild,” he says.

Posey is amusing as the scheming thespette who tries to manipulate everyone. She clings to a whiny drone, but infuses Brenda with a sweet mixture of ambition and apathy, making it intriguing to figure out what’s going on behind her blank-faced stare.

Shanley peppers the play with a flurry of caustic lines, but the piece threatens to get lost inside byzantine Hollywood references. It’s unlikely that civilian viewers know what a negative pick-up is, or what a Disney distribution deal would mean for the future of this pic.

Michael McGarty’s sets are slightly confusing. It’s unclear whether the background is the Bronx or a movie studio version of the Bronx. Otherwise, interiors of trailers and offices appear suitably seedy.

Costumes by Colleen Atwood capture the casual, loose-fitting West Coast style that so many industry types enjoy.

“Four Dogs” is a trifle of a play, but gives good comedy. It’s hard to say whether the Geffen Playhouse, which is named after one of Hollywood’s toughest types, was allowing for a true inside joke with its debut selection. If so, it worked.

Four Dogs and a Bone

(Geffen Playhouse, Westwood; 498 seats; $ 35 top)

Production

A Geffen Playhouse production of a play in two acts by John Patrick Shanley. Director, Lawrence Kasdan; scenery, Michael McGarty; costumes, Colleen Atwood; lighting, Neil Peter Jampolis; sound, Jon Gottlieb; producing director, Gil Cates; managing director, Lou Moore. Opened Oct. 19, 1995; reviewed Oct. 18. Runs through Nov. 26. Running time: 1 hr., 45 min. Brenda ... Parker Posey Bradley ... Martin Short Collette ... Elizabeth Perkins Victor ... Brendan Fraser In "Four Dogs and a Bone," John Patrick Shanley nibbles on the hand that's been feeding him for some time now. The Gotham playwright who has turned to screenwriting for a healthy living ("Congo" is his latest) joins a long line of legit writers conveying how dark, dreary, sleazy, insidious and unappetizing Hollywood really is. Trouble is, "Four Dogs" captures none of those things. At best it's a pastiche of laugh lines ground together into a passable drama. The West Coast preem of the play comes just as "Get Shorty," a similarly cynical skewering of Hollywood, heads into theaters.

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