Neil LaBute’s new play is called The Money Shot and how
depressing refreshing is it that I overheard so many people patiently telling so many other people outside the theater the meaning of the phrase. I mean the show is running on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, you kind of expect a certain familiarity with, you know, racy sexual squalidness savvy in those precincts, no?
So: Two Hollywood couples. The lesbians are Karen (Elizabeth Reaser, all five Twilight sagas; Young Adult), a vapid, soon-to-be-former star, and Bev (Callie Thorne, Necessary Roughness, Rescue Me), a film editor. The heteros are Steve (Fred Weller, In Plain Sight, The Good Wife), also a soon-to-be-former star and memorably stupid to boot, and Missy (Gia Crovatin, Californication), who might weigh 70 pounds and whose most cherished memory is of putting her cheerleading skills to use during a
lewd high-spirited interlude in her high school production of The Crucible (“Mr. Miller sued”).
And so: LaBute, whose affinity for the Dark Side of human nature has been thoroughly embraced by Hollywood in such films as In The Company Of Men, The Shape Of Things and Your Friends And Neighbors, now finds himself, as Joni Mitchell might say, with his teeth sunk in the hand that brings him things he really can’t give up just yet. Actually, she did say that. Oh, the power and the glory. Even David Mamet came late to this party of authorial retribution for the humiliation suffered by highly compensated lowly Hollywood writers. Before there was Speed-The-Plow, there were, oh, Day For Night, Once In A Lifetime, Day Of The Locusts — one could go on across the genres in such shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sport; these days whole bodies of work by Douglas Carter Beane and Theresa Rebeck seem devoted to the poison-pen idiom.
The Money Shot posits the
inane not-quite-believable notion that Karen and Steve will regain their box-office stature if they agree to do a nude love scene in the movie they’re filming. After the endless banter between smart-ass Bev and dumb-as-crabgrass Steve — after, even, their inevitable wrestling match (this is, after all, Neil LaBute, and the director is that Steppenwolf master of physical staging, Terry Kinney), we get to the nitty gritty of what will be permissible. Certain activities are OK by Missy, for example, as long as they don’t involve tongue, “which could lead to health issues.” Despite the title, the issue takes up very little of the show’s long single act.
You may remember that this is the play Heather Graham ankled just before rehearsals got under way. Karen is flamboyantly narcissistic, and Reaser — who replaced Graham at the last minute — is splendid, though she tends to gild the silly in a role that’s too similar to the one pitched perfectly by Sigourney Weaver in Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike. Reaser’s companions are terrific but
in the end at the end of the day, notwithstanding a smattering of very funny lines, it’s predictable and tiresome.
Across town in the East Village, another film-based travesty is unfolding in Ivo Van Hove’s production of Scenes From A Marriage at the New York Theatre Workshop. The Belgian director is famed for his deconstructions of well-known texts. In this case, using American playwright Emily Mann’s clarifying adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman screenplay, Van Hove turns the NYTW space into several mini-theaters, with, in Act I, the audience divided into separate groups and moved from scene to scene. In each, a different pair of actors plays the central roles of Johan and Marianne, as their comfortably bourgeois marriage unravels.
Then there’s a half-hour break to allow for the space to be reconstituted as one theater-in-the-round. And wouldn’t you know it, in Act II the six actors play their two roles all at once. Very exciting. Well, very exciting except for the why? part. I had no idea what these
shenanigans devices added to the ruinous haunted beauty of the film. Mr. Bergman should sue.