Friday, June 22, 2012

Modern Drama

Written and Directed by Bill Sterritt
Produced by SPQR Stage Company

review by Andrew Moore

A playwright is haunted by the characters of his one good play, which was written out of spite.  A simple premise with great potential plays out in Bill Sterritt's at times absurdist, at times simply absurd new comedy at studio/stage.  There are some very interesting ideas at the bottom of Mr.Sterritt's comedy, but he needs a few more drafts for those ideas to fully blossom.

The set is magnificent, and an environmental treatment of the house brings the audience into the physical world of the play.  We're even given drinks to go with our deck chairs.  The way the stage is set, I was ready to fully embrace the world of the play.  I was excited over the possibility of what was to come.  And yet, and yet ...

The cast holds their roles at arms length, not really committing to the presentational performances they toy with.  There are the rare flashes of inspiration among the three speaking roles, but they never really ignite.  The non-speaking ghosts of dramatis personae-past quite frequently steal the scene in spite of -- or rather in large part because of -- their lack of dialogue.

Which brings us to the first major issue with the script:  The superfluous brandishing of flowery diction that permeates every sentence.  Even the flourishes, at times, have flourishes.  If this eccentricity were limited to the playwright (or rather the character of the playwright, Crocker Morton played by Rich Brunner) it might work.  But alas, each of the speaking roles is lousy with fifty cent words, and they do their damnedest to squeeze three bucks out of every half-dollar. When the verbosity gets in the way of clarity, it's time to break out the red felt tip.  Believe me, it's time.

Stakes.  Specifically, are there any? What does the playwright have to lose if he fails?  It's made very clear to us that he's happy writing porno.  He's only convinced to take up the task by the snoring, squatting Gordon Gordon (the artistic director attempting to commission a new play, played by Keith Wyffels).  So?  That's all it takes to make Crocker Morton write a new play?  And deleting the play has no toll.  Morton seems momentarily troubled by it and then -- its a done deal. Where is the struggle?  What are the stakes?

The stakes all belong to Gordon Gordon.  If he doesn't secure this playwright, he loses out on the lucrative grant.  Okay.  So make Gordon Gordon the focus of the play.  Or put something dear on the line for Crocker Morton.

In the end, Morton reconciles with his wife (Lisa Temple) in an incredibly convenient display of forgiveness.  Really, if that's all it took, why have they been at odds for so long?  The truth is, there is no conflict between the two of them.  They've worked out a rhythm and routine that greets us at rise and carries through to the tacked on reconciliation.

The scenario is rich with comedic and dramatic potential, but these choices don't read as "choices" but rather "expediencies." For instance, an interesting choice would be if the playwright were not only happy writing porno, but ironically proud of the fact that he is a Tony Award-winning, successful adult film screenwriter.  Why go back to the theatre?  He can knock out porno screenplays as easily as one of his fans rubs one out while watching them.  It's not explored.  Nothing other than the rich, GRE vocabulary of the playwright is explored with any fervor.  It's as if Mr. Sterritt came up with a great idea for a play but didn't want to be bothered to actually write it. 

Which is so ironic, it makes me wonder if the entire evening of theatre was some sort of overarching, meta-joke on the audience.  If so, I wish we had been let in on the laughs.

Modern Drama trods the boards Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 5:00 pm through July 1.  Tickets are $10 (half price with a postcard).  For more information, call (323) 463-3900 or visit the website at

studio/stage is located at 520 N. Western Ave. in Hollywood.  Street parking abounds.

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