Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Through November 5
Sometimes a play can go up a little too early — and I am afraid that is the case with this drama co-written by Alicia Adams and Peter Monro. Its bones are in all the right places, but its narrative is slight and its tone is heavy and flat.
By rights, Adams and Monro’s play should be amazing. The work, atmospherically staged by director Patrick Murphy, is a period piece set in the Hollywood Golden Era, with real life historical figures such as Billy Wilder and Marlene Dietrich juxtaposed with a uniquely American tale about the assimilation of refugees into society. Yet the show comes across as a rather dull pastiche of historical figures, lackluster romance, and drab plotting.
Murphy’s production starts out promisingly enough: Studio stage workers, caparisoned in 1940s garb, bustle about the stage, moving spotlights and dabbing an actress with makeup as she lies on the floor. But just as you think this is going to be a straightforwardly historical scenario, a high def video image consisting of roaring waves lights up the floor, then becomes a movie screen. It’s a beautiful innovative moment that, alas, the rest of the show frankly strains to catch up with.
Fleeing the Nazis in her native Poland, beautiful raven-haired Kasia (Fayelyn Bilodeau) literally washes up on the shore of Hollywood, where she’s discovered on the beach by hunky movie studio cinematographer, Max (Jeremy Mitchell). Struck by her beauty and vulnerability, he takes her under his wing and they become lovers.
Max gets Kasia a job on the set of as the stand-in for actress Barbara Stanwyck (McCready Baker) on the movie Double Indemnity. Before long, Kasia catches the eye of sultry star Marlene Dietrich (played by author Adams) who offers her a few lines in her latest film (and a place in her bed). Kasia’s story is contrasted with the behind-the-scenes bickering between Indemnity screenwriter Billy Wilder (Chris Schultz) and his writing partner Raymond Chandler (Paul Dillon).
The play comes alive during the scenes which take place on the movie soundstages, as the actors amusingly portray the real life stars of Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (Stephen Simon), who ham it up quite genially. Less compelling, however, are the overwritten and pointless interactions between Schultz’s Wilder and Chandler’s clearly self-loathing Raymond.
Moreover, the central love triangle involving Kasia, Max, and Marlene Dietrich is so empty at its core that we almost find ourselves expecting something else to come up — a spy subplot or a murder mystery or something — which never happens. Kasia flirts with Max, who gets her a gig, and then she leaves him for Marlene, who gets her a better one. And that, really, is the whole insubstantial tale.
At this point, the charitable interpretation would be that Murphy’s staging had not yet gelled on the night reviewed. The pacing is noticeably off, with languid line readings and odd patches of stilted listlessness. The transitions between scenes, which are clearly meant to be seamless, with couches and equipment being lugged on and off, take far too long, often bracketing exchanges that seem shorter than the set changes themselves.
Performances are uneven. Bilodeau makes a perfectly sweet, but rather feckless Kasia, who comes across as just a little too limp to spark all the excitement around her, while Mitchell’s sweetly lumpen Max is a charming if lightweight character. Of the “real” Hollywood figures, Simon, who has virtually no lines, steals every scene just by blundering around the stage, while Adams offers a nicely predatory turn as lesbian cougar (and international star) Dietrich. Dillon offers a compelling and strangely haunted turn that is simultaneously angry and damaged, and which hints at greater depth than his character’s famous name would suggest.
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat. days through Saturdays at 7, Sundays at 2; through November 5. (213) 389-3856 or www.bootlegtheater.org. Running time: 2 hours with intermission.