Stars, Scars, and Spangles

Gia Crovatin, Fred Weller, Callie Thorne and Elizabeth Reaser in a scene from Neil LaBute's "The Money Shot" at MCC Theater. | JOAN MARCUS

Gia Crovatin, Fred Weller, Callie Thorne and Elizabeth Reaser in a scene from Neil LaBute's “The Money Shot” at MCC Theater. | JOAN MARCUS

Even when he’s not at the height of his powers Neil LaBute is, at least superficially, more entertaining and provocative than most contemporary playwrights. “The Money Shot,” his latest outing with MCC now at the Lortel, has plenty of his trademark lacerating wit, even if it runs out of steam long before it achieves the eponymous (ahem) climax.

The title, of course, refers to the moment of orgasm in porn films. The plot, such as it is, concerns two fading stars — one who has eschewed acting to build her own product empire and one who has devoted himself to action pics that are lucrative but artistically vapid. They have come together to ask permission of their respective spouses to do a full-on sex scene in a movie they are shooting.

It’s nearly a full hour into the play, however, until we know what’s really going on. The rest of the play is consumed with potshots at the vacuity of actors, the shallowness of Hollywood, and the indignity of aging in a business where youth trumps talent. The shots are funny and often on the mark, but they never coalesce into a fully realized play.

Two plays can’t quite get it up, but one spectacle is dazzling

That’s because the characters are too stereotypical, the jokes too easy, and the situation too far-fetched to make much of an evening out of this. For all the acid-etched humor and underlying anger of the characters, at heart they are crashing, narcissistic bores, and we soon grow tired of them. There’s racism, sexism, a few anti-gay barbs, jabs at eating disorders, objectification of men and women, but it’s all cobbled together in ways that feel careless — as if LaBute had all these great lines he’d thought up but nowhere to put them. However, you will laugh in spite of yourself.

Director Terry Kinney does what he can with this, but it’s not really that much. The actors often appear awkward. Elizabeth Reaser plays Karen, the actress trying to build a business. She is reasonably competent, but ultimately bland. If that’s intended to demonstrate her inherent shallowness, it’s not very well thought out. As her lover Bev, Callie Thorne is a stock angry lesbian, but she throws herself into it all gamely. (Quite literally at the end.) But she gives us nothing we haven’t seen before. Steve, the erstwhile “Sexiest Man Alive,” is played by Fred Weller, who usually can do no wrong in my book, but he has been given little to start with and nowhere to go. Gia Crovatin, who plays his very young wife, is a caricature, though she has some funny bits.

Watching vapid people doing boring things ends up feeling like a waste of time, but there is a great deal of pleasure to be had staring at Derek McLane’s perfect Hollywood Hills patio. That’s the only real star on view here.

 

“Stalking the Bogeyman,” the tale of a young man seeking revenge against the man who sexually and physically abused him, may have made a terrific narrative. As a play, however, it falls short. Originally written as a dark memoir by journalist David Holthouse and adapted for the stage by Markus Potter, the play seeks to dramatize the acts of abuse and David’s quest for retribution over a quarter century.

Unfortunately, Potter, who also directed with little subtlety, tries to dramatize too much of the story. Monologues, where the actor playing David speaks directly to the audience, are the most compelling moments in the piece. Ironically, the need to overwrite undermines the human drama, particularly in scenes where adult actors are playing children or teens (sorry, that just never works).

This would have been more compelling, and felt less forced, as a one-person show, more like Martin Moran’s “All The Rage,” which covered similar ground but felt more immediate and honest. There is no question that this is a harrowing story of one man’s healing. Roderick Hill does a fine job as Holthouse, leading a competent cast. Still, this is one story that sadly loses its impact in the telling.

 

Davon Rainey and Shelly Watson in Austin McCormick’s “Rococo Rouge.” | PHILLIP VAN NOSTRAND

Davon Rainey and Shelly Watson in Austin McCormick’s “Rococo Rouge.” | PHILLIP VAN NOSTRAND

For a complete change of pace, do check out the astonishingly creative and delightful “Rococo Rouge” from Company XIV at its new home across from the Public Theater. This is a big show in a tiny space, mashing together opera, burlesque, comedy, music, acrobatics, and whatever into a vest-pocket spectacle that will leave you marvelously entertained. Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Austin McCormick, this is entertainment for its own sake, asking nothing more than that you be seduced and dazzled. And you will be. Don’t ask too many questions, and just let yourself go and experience it in all its idiosyncratic fun.

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