nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
January 14, 2011
ScreenPlay, running now at 59e59 Theatres, tells the story of former college buddies, Graham and Dean (played by Scott Brooks and Jonathan Sale, respectively), who wind up in a Faustian bargain in which Dean sells his screenplay to his former friend for $250,000—thereby giving up all rights to the script, even credit as writer.
The play begins with a nice use of sound and projection: the scene’s locale and a short description appear on a screen, as if being typed, fittingly in the style of a film script (a screenplay). This simple and clean way of delineating changes in scene and time continues throughout the show.
The script, written by Brooks, is predictable and safe. Most of the time it comes off as more of a screenplay itself, a made-for-television movie-of-the-week, and not a piece of theatre. In his performance as Graham, Brooks shows us that he is adept at playing a smug, manipulative con man. Jonathan Sale is a little too whiney and defeatist in his portrayal of Dean, but overall, still the strongest actor of the bunch.
The cast is rounded out by Diana DeLaCruz and Heather Dilly. DeLaCruz plays Dean’s fiancée, Lisa, the only character who seems to understand the gravity of Dean’s agreement with Graham—that by selling his script (and the authorship) he is essentially selling his soul. Dilly plays Suzie, gal pal of both guys from back in the college days. Her character is so contradictory it’s hard to believe her as real. She claims not to be after money when she sleeps with the wealthy Graham, and again when she sleeps with Dean after he has procured his quarter million for selling-out. She claims to love Dean “more than any other man in her life,” yet doesn’t support him in his need to set things right and get the truth out about writing his (now award-winning) script.
Director Jenny Greeman consistently allows her actors to over-dramatize in big, broad strokes, rather than push her cast to find specificity and true meaning in the identities and realities of these characters. The piece overall is a naturalistic, conventional stage play, however, the actors frequently make awkward moves or speak out towards the audience. Greeman, who is also sound and projection designer, has attempted to give the show some theatrical edge by staging unnecessary transitions in which characters dress for the next scene in front of us while dated rock/pop music plays.
Everything in this production feels empty, from the heartless, unlikable characters to the IKEA-esque furniture that makes up the set. Early on in the show, Graham refers to Los Angeles as a "vapid wasteland," and Suzie chimes in with "Vapid. That's a good word. Vapid." And I couldn't agree more. Vapid is a great word, a great word to describe this show.
Maybe this hard-heartedness is meant to shed some light on the commercial culture of LA / Hollywood and the cutthroat nature of the film industry—but in order for this to carry any dramatic weight, we need to see how people are affected or changed by this ruthless landscape. If there were any indication that Graham, Dean, and Suzie had actually been good friends at some point—if we had been shown their bond, rather than just told it was there—we could have maybe gone on an emotional journey with these characters and felt their desire to succeed, their sense of loss. ScreenPlay is meant to examine “friendship, rivalry, and ambition”—the concept itself is good—it could make a great story, unfortunately, this production falls flat.