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Brice Williams and Adam Mervis in The Portman Delusions at The Raven Playhouse (Photo by Stephen Borasch)
Brice Williams and Adam Mervis in The Portman Delusions at The Raven Playhouse (Photo by Stephen Borasch)

The Portman Delusions

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Raven Theater
Through November 4

Adam Mervis’s romantic satire, set amongst a group of youngish Los Angelinos, is caparisoned with many of the bells and whistles of the millennial generation: Mentions of Tinder and Bumble, ipads, video games, and bitcoin abound, as well as the (quite narratively irrelevant) spiritual presence of the actress Natalie Portman, who is a strange underlying theme here for some reason.  And yet, the play’s plot itself is a creaky old tale of Hollywood cynicism and corruption that frankly feels superglued to an inauthentic, early 90s portrait of Hollywood.

Roy (playwright Mervis) and his roomie Mark (Brice Williams) are a pair of 30-something L.A. ad writers with dreams of making it big as “real” writers.  The edgy excitable Mark wants to write a hit movie, but Roy has the loftier goal of becoming a brilliant novelist — but he’s got writer’s block until he meets up with lovely marketing exec Jamie (Kate Spire), who becomes his muse.

After writing a beautiful novel about spies in Budapest, Roy manages to achieve the golden dream: He sells the work to television. He’s paired with sleazy TV exec Kurtz (Jeff Kerr McGivney), who makes quickly eviscerates everything that Roy loved about the original novel. Before long, Roy has a nervous breakdown, which threatens his romance with muse Jamie.

Mervis’s play is intended to be a character-driven work, but the various protagonists are all such self-absorbed L.A. stereotypes that it’s tough to root for them. Yes, drama is often based on love and the creation of art — but there’s something indulgent about the focus on these issues here, perhaps due to the banality of the play’s dramatic situations and the irritating patter of the dialogue, which has the depth of first-date chitchat between singles in a bar. In this economy, are people really still brooding over having to rewrite their screenplays four times for $25,000 a draft (which is what this play’s hero frets about)?

It doesn’t help matters that director Thomas Burr’s staging is unexpectedly slow-paced, with line readings that are full of meaningful but sluggish pauses.  Or that the female characters are given about one third of the depth of the male characters — basically reduced to having little more to do than demonstrate concern for their men, while the men are absorbed with career and self esteem issues, as well as romantic ones. 

 

Raven Theatre, 5233 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through November 4.  www.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 2 hours with an intermission.

 

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