Nearly 10 years ago, Billy Crystal and writer Quinton Peeples started work on a screenplay they’d eventually call Have A Nice Day. Not terribly long in Hollywood development years, but eons removed from our current political climate.
Performed and recorded (by Amazon’s Audible) as a staged Off Broadway reading last night and tonight by a starry ensemble – Crystal, Kevin Kline, Annette Bening and Dick Cavett, among others – Have a Nice Day, with its progressive, honest and do-good president, is just a fantasy too far, even given its Wonderful Life trappings.
Crystal, in full-on City Slickers likability, plays a bumbling, sweet-tempered angel of death who comes calling on David Murray (Kline), a middle-aged man with a stifled wife (Bening) and a teenage daughter threatening tattoo-level rebellion (a terrific Auli’i Cravalho, voice of Moana).
Since Murray happens to be President of the United States, the visit from this track-suited existential “repo man” will have consequences well beyond domestic boundaries.
The thin set-up is this: When the death-dealer botches the details, the president is given an extra day to finish things up – emotionally reconnect with his wife, set his daughter on the straight and narrow and veto an oil pipeline bill. Not the highest of stakes, even pre-Trump.
Directed by John Rando, performed with scripts in hand, narrated by Cavett and accompanied by an on-stage Foley artist, the production is mildly amusing, free of cynicism, nuance, and, despite some scattered topical references (social media, the 25th Amendment), relevant. Even allowing for the 10-year gestation, jokes about high school students armed for graduation with Silly String seem beyond quaint.
The reviewed performance – the first night of the two – saw the actors charming their ways through the script. The performances were mostly of interest as a sort of thought puzzle – what a movie version might have looked like 10 years ago? Probably dated, even then. Kline would have needed more oomph than he showed at the Minetta Lane Theater, and Bening would have demanded better material. Crystal would have been perfect ’90s-vintage Crystal, and yes I can do the math.
Also in the cast, most in multiple roles: voices of all trades Darrell Hammond and Rachel Dratch; Justin Bartha (a last-minute sub for Keegan-Michael Key) as a nervous-stomached assistant; Robin Thede as a seemingly loyal aide de camp; Christopher Jackson as a genuinely loyal Secret Service agent; Irene Bedard as a Native American constituent; and Chris Cafero and Robert King batting clean-up. All do, well, nicely.
Have A Nice Day will be available on Amazon’s Audible Nov. 2.