Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Celebration Theatre at the Lex
Through Aug. 31st
There’s a special subset of shows that parody or examine a particular celebrity, such as Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers’ Matt & Ben (about the titular creators of Good Will Hunting), or Jonathan Tolins’ examination of life in Streisand’s private shopping mall in Buyer and Cellar. Some of these plays use celebrity to hint at bigger themes, while others just like to have fun with a tweaked version of a star’s persona. Byron Lane’s Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, a new production at the Celebration Theatre, is very much the latter sort of show. Although Tom Lenk is very funny as the unearthly Swinton, Lane’s play doesn’t quite live up the vivid performance at its center.
Walt (Lane) has just had a breakup with his boyfriend and is feeling suicidal when actress Tilda Swinton (Lenk) shows up in response to an ad for a roommate on, as she puts it, “the list of Craig.” She wants to study Walt to base a film character on him; she requests two years, he agrees to two hours. As time passes and she meets his divorced parents, Janet (Jayne Entwistle) and Herman (Mark Jude Sullivan), Tilda manages to restore Walt’s confidence in himself.
Lenk is fabulous as the freaky Tilda, a fashion maven who “doesn’t understand the concept of food” but knows how to make an entrance in a huge white dress with a bubble-wrap cape. Lenk’s performance is energetic, sharp and hilarious; he’s not only constantly funny but occasionally really does channel Swinton’s odd intensity. Entwistle scores in multiple roles, particularly as Swinton’s assistant Siri, while Sullivan, who plays two characters, is more amusing as Walt’s ex than as his father. Lane, unfortunately, has given all the best lines in the play to Tilda, and as a result his character is less memorable.
Director Tom DeTrinis is wise enough to give Lenk the spotlight and let him go — but this also creates the impression that the play is a one-man-show that happens to have other people in it, which isn’t entirely true. The main problem here is that all of the stuff with Tilda is gold, but most of the other stuff is not. However, Lane is responsible for writing plenty of great lines, such as this startling admission from Swinton: “I’m sexual constantly. I have a Pikachu inside of me right now.”
Let me be clear: most Swinton or Lenk fans are going to thoroughly enjoy themselves. It’s just unfortunate that the play itself is more variable in quality than it might be.
Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 31; www.celebrationtheatre.com; Running time: one hour and 20 minutes.