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Reviewed by Katie Buenneke
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Through October 8
Big Night is a play with aspirations bigger than it can deliver on. The new work by playwright Paul Rudnick wants to make grand statements and provoke gnarly debates about important social issues, but complex issues need to be explored carefully — they’re not best served by being glossed over to get to the next Big Idea, a trap Big Night falls into all too often.
The show follows Michael (Brian Hutchison), an actor who’s been struggling and playing bit parts for years. He’s finally been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, much to the delight of his agent, Cary (Max Jenkins). It’s the night of the show, and Michael is freaking out. His nephew, Eddie (Tom Phelan), who is trans, wants Michael to use his speech — when and if he wins — to make a statement to the LGBT community. Michael, who is gay and in a long-term relationship with boyfriend Austin (Luke Macfarlane) isn’t sure if tonight is the right night to do that. Meanwhile, Michael’s mom, Esther (Wendie Malick), who willingly shoehorns herself into the role of a stereotypical Jewish mother, mostly wants to make the night all about her.
The first half of the play moves along well, with an almost sitcom-like pacing of quips and zippy punchlines. The writing feels a bit too expository — the characters spend a lot of time saying what they’re thinking and delivering monologues about backstory. Still. Cary, Michael’s agent, has so many great one-liners that it’s easy to forgive those faults.
But then the play takes a turn. Michael learns that there’s been a shooting at the Los Angeles LGBT center, where Austin is. Michael wins the Oscar, but it’s bittersweet, and the rest of the evening is somber. It’s a moment that feels directly inspired by last summer’s shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which occurred the same day as the Tony Awards, and similarly cast a long shadow over that awards show.
Unfortunately, this is when the play loses its footing. The characters, who didn’t feel very three-dimensional to start with, retreat further into tropes. Eddie becomes the angry young radical who is barely won over by common sense. Eleanor (Kecia Lewis), who’s there with Michael’s mother, is solely defined by her past trauma and her Pulitzer Prize. Esther — well, she still wants to make it all about her, and she has some truly cringe-worthy moments of white feminism (really, it’s not always about you) and, even worse, outright racism and transphobia. Perhaps Rudnick thinks it’s alright to make racist and transphobic jokes, as long as they’re coming from a character the audience isn’t supposed to like, but there’s something about the context of the “jokes” that doesn’t make them feel very much like joke. It seems like the audience is expected to laugh along, and secretly agree that, yes, Muslims are the problem!
Perhaps it’s telling that the three most important figures in the second half are the play’s least compelling. Michael, as a character, is a bland everyman, while neither Macfarlane nor Malick seems comfortable in their roles. Macfarlane reads as stilted, as if he’s delivering his lines and hitting his marks (which are pretty obvious under Walter Bobbie’s direction — he literally turns his back on the others so he can look out to the audience and deliver the most emotional moment in one of his monologues).
Malick, meanwhile, trips over her lines, and comes across nervous as an actor, yet not neurotic enough in her character. Given the chance, Eddie and Eleanor could be interesting, but neither Phelan nor Lewis is given much to work with from the script. Indeed, it’s Jenkins’ Cary, who doesn’t talk much throughout the second half, who makes the biggest overall impression, likely due to his great comedic timing.
There are some truly funny moments in Big Night, and it’s commendable that the playwright is trying to tackle big issues — he just doesn’t tackle any of those issues particularly well. The play makes half-baked statements about gun control, base desires for revenge, and what it means to have a platform to speak out about important social issues. Ultimately, however, Rudnick does not use his own platform to say anything meaningful about anything.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; through Oct. 8. Centertheatregroup.org. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Source: Stage Raw
An unforeseen (and inexcusable) off-stage event overshadows the Academy Awards ceremony where a gay actor stands to win his first Oscar.
Where to begin with all that’s wrong with Paul Rudnick’s new play, “Big Night,” which takes place in a swanky Hollywood hotel suite before and after the Academy Awards ceremony where a C-lister named Michael (Brian Hutchison) stands to become the first openly gay actor to accept an Academy Award?
Let’s start with the fact that Rudnick — the typically hilarious writer of stage and screen responsible for “Jeffrey” and “In & Out” — doesn’t seem to realize the historical significance of this win, which ought to have been sufficient drama on which to hang the entire show. One can just imagine all the backstage quarterbacking as Michael’s boyishly young agent Cary (Max Jenkins) coaches his client, a serious Juilliard-trained actor who’s just received a five-picture offer to appear in the “Star Wars” franchise, on whether or not to acknowledge his homosexuality in his acceptance speech. But “Big Night” avoids all that, settling for far easier (albeit infrequent) laughs.
In addition to being gay, Michael is also Jewish, and nearly all Rudnick’s punchlines center on those two aspects of his identity, hitting the Jewish angle especially hard: There are Bar Mitzvah jokes and Passover jokes and Hanukkah jokes and Yiddish jokes — pretty much everything but Bris jokes. Then come the gay jokes. The first guest to appear is Michael’s nephew, Eddie, née Erica (played by trans actor Tom Phelan), a female-to-male college student who earnestly implores his uncle to take a stand against Academy prejudice by decrying the cisgender actor also nominated in his category (best supporting actor) for playing a trans character.
Politically speaking, such things do matter, but apparently not so much to Rudnick, who uses the cause as fodder for cheap shots about gender pronouns and political correctness. Strange for a play that takes place so deep within its own queer echo-chamber that every single character is L, G, B or T (though Rudnick can’t resist rattling off the rest of the alphabet for easy laughs, quipping that “gender fluid … sounds like a cleaning product”).
That applies even to Michael’s Jewish mother, Esther, who enters after a laggy first 15 minutes or so — and hers truly is an entrance, as slender, long-legged actress Wendie Malick swans in wearing a glittering silver gown. A brash, irrepressible Christine Baranski type, she wastes no time in establishing herself as the most interesting person in the room, stealing scenes right out from under her humdrum son (the idea that this dullard might ever be Oscar nominated is an insult to anyone who ever has been).
“Tonight isn’t about me,” Esther insists, before proceeding to make it all about her when she drops a bombshell: Instead of wasting time as a widow, she has fallen in love again, this time with Pulitzer prize-winning poet Eleanor (Kecia Lewis) — another dramatic opportunity missed. Although “Big Night” consistently avoids the storylines that seem most promising, it’s not for lack of having something serious to say. But when Rudnick does try to make his statement, the play practically falls apart entirely. (Stop reading here if you don’t wish to spoil the surprise.)
For the first half of “Big Night,” Michael’s partner Austin (Luke Macfarlane) has been missing. We’re free to imagine all sorts of explanations (they met in a club, then spent the next eight hours wandering the streets of L.A., which suggests he might have a crystal meth problem), but the real one is a doozy — and a mood-ruining bit of emotional manipulation so egregious, it’s hard to take seriously: Austin had been volunteering at the local LGBTQ youth center when a gunman walked in and shot more than 50 kids.
The incident casts a pall over the Oscar ceremony, of which Rudnick includes just Michael’s speech, beginning with that old cliché where the actor takes out his notes, starts to read and then decides to speak from the heart instead — a convention that simply doesn’t work under these circumstances. In fact, the only way such a scene might have been effective is if Rudnick had written the other play, the one in which Michael must decide whether or not to acknowledge his sexuality from the stage, then is compelled at the last moment by forces bigger than his petty career concerns.
As inside-joke showbiz satires go, “Big Night” is inexplicably out-of-touch on how things work, from Hollywood’s “don’t ask, don’t tell (and if asked, let Scientology find you a wife)” policy to the Academy Awards (which never go to actors whose only credits are regional theater and “Law & Order” guest spots). But even if it did get these things right, why invent the youth center shooting? Wouldn’t an attack on the Oscars themselves be more interesting — and plausible?
Rudnick has a hard time juggling the competing tones of the play, alternating between the cattiness that comes naturally (as when Esther dismisses the Edible Arrangements fruit bouquet) and heavy-handed social commentary (a preposterous moment in which Eddie pulls out a gun and proposes that he try to hunt down the gunman zirself). Though he’s shell-shocked by what he’s just witnessed, Macfarlane makes for nice eye candy as Austin (who might just as well have been written shirtless) in the second half of the play.
But there’s no denying the terrorist attack is a cheap stunt, one that merely reinforces the play’s agenda, when it would have been far more effective if Rudnick had forced these liberal-minded characters to face off against at least one bigot, or someone who challenges their progressive ideals. Though he wrote one of the funniest movies of the last 25 years (that would be 1992’s “Sister Act,” albeit pseudonymously), Rudnick isn’t likely to win an Oscar in this lifetime, so this is his chance to say his piece. As “Big Night” is written, Michael manages to perform two possible acceptance speeches. Surely at least one of them should be the highlight of the play.
L.A. Theater Review: Paul Rudnick’s Oscars Comedy ‘Big Night’
Wendie Malick and Brian Hutchison star in the world premiere from the writer of Jeffrey and In & Out, which opened in Los Angeles September 16.
The Center Theatre Group world premiere of Big Night, the latest comedy from Jeffrey and In & Out writer Paul Rudnick, opened in Los Angeles September 16.
Big Night, which unfolds in a swanky Beverly Hills hotel suite over the course of a chaotic Academy Awards night, began previews September 10 and will continue through October 8 in the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Tony winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago, Bright Star) directs a cast that features Emmy Award nominee Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me, Hot in Cleveland), Brian Hutschison (Smokefall ), Max Jenkins (The Mysteries of Laura), Kecia Lewis (The Drowsy Chaperone), Luke Macfarlane (Brothers & Sisters), and Tom Phelan (Hir, The Fosters).
Brian Hutchinson, left, and Max Jenkins
Written by Paul Rudnick and unimaginatively directed by Walter Bobbie, it’s set in a glitzy hotel suite before and after an Oscars ceremony. Mike (Brian Hutchison), a gay Jewish actor, is an unassuming guy who still can’t believe he’s been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category (and on the same ballot as Matt Damon, no less). Mike’s hanging out with his agent, Cary (Max Jenkins), discussing his past career and future plans, when in walks his nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan), a transgender person and a college student in gender studies. Eddie wants Mike to use the podium to take a stand on the casting of a cisgender performer (also up for an award) in a transgender role. Cary strenuously objects, concerned that such overt political statements at a good-time event such as the Oscars will undercut Mike’s career.
Before this conflict can play out, however, Mike’s glamorous and controlling mom, Esther (Wendie Malick), appears and immediately secures center stage with her own announcement (following a lengthy exposition) that she’s fallen in love with Eleanor (Kecia Lewis), a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American novelist. Hardly have greetings and congratulations been bandied about when news comes of a mass shooting at an LGBT center hosting homeless children. Thirty people, among them youngsters, die; one of those to survive is Mike’s buff boyfriend, Austin (Luke Macfarlane), who, traumatized, soon shows up at the suite to reveal all the terrible details.
All of this is jam-packed into 90 minutes of a facile script studded with one-liners, some more on target than others.
From the beginning the kindest thing that can be said about the ensemble is that it is under-rehearsed (maybe) and under-directed (for sure). Bobbie positions the actors onstage and they mostly stand there, looking awkward and shooting exposition back and forth. It’s as if they’re being directed for a sitcom, with expectations that strategic cameras will pick up some close shots to be edited in later.
The charismatic Malick comes off best in the first half, but her performance falls apart once the role calls for her to approximate a real human being. The bland Hutchinson is miscast, and it’s impossible to believe that he and Malick share DNA.
BIG NIGHT | Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City | Through Oct. 8 | (213) 628-2772 | centertheatregroup.org
Source: LA Weekly
Wendie Malick stars in the world premiere of playwright Paul Rudnick’s latest, an Oscar-themed tragicomedy.
Tragedy strikes on Oscar night, splitting the emotions of Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Stratford (Brian Hutchison) in the world premiere of playwright Paul Rudnick’s seriocomic ensemble piece, Big Night. What happens when the real world comes crashing through the bubble of celebrity? Apparently nothing much, as Michael hunkers down in his hotel suite with friends and family, including a corrosive yet effervescent Wendie Malick, for a bout of hand-wringing, quippy one-liners and meandering monologues.
The one-liners are a trademark of Rudnick’s, whose breakout AIDS comedy, Jeffrey, was full of them. Winner of a 1993 Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and the John Gassner Playwriting Award, Rudnick had already found success in Hollywood with Sister Act, and had the sequel coming out that same year, as well as Addams Family Values. A creature of both Broadway and Hollywood, Rudnick wrote satirical film criticism as Libby Gelman-Waxner for a column in Premiere Magazine until it folded in 2007, continuing at Entertainment Weekly.
With a dense résumé spanning roughly 30 years, there’s no doubt the writer is familiar with his chosen milieu in Big Night. The mid-century hotel suite by scenic designer John Lee Beatty features floor-to-ceiling windows with a stunning view of Los Angeles in the background. Nervous about his prospects of beating Matt Damon for the Oscar, Michael is calmed by his new agent, Cary Blumenthal (a scene-stealing Max Jenkins), who offers him a gift of cuff links. “They’re from the agency,” he notes. “See the logo?”
When Michael’s nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan) arrives, the plot begins to creep forward. A transgender LGBTQ activist, he implores his uncle to use his soapbox, should he win, to make a statement on behalf of the community. It’s a question that demands more attention as the play moves into its later stages, but first Michael’s mother, Esther (Malick), arrives with her new lover, a double Pulitzer Prize-winning professor from Columbia University, Eleanor (Kecia Lewis).
The two enter just in time to bring much-needed brassy-broad energy to a comedy that has begun to meander. And continues to do so as Malick does what everyone does in this play — that is to launch into a monologue while the others sit rapt, listening as if it were the Panic Broadcast of 1938.
Michael’s partner, Austin (Luke Macfarlane), arrives directly from the scene of a mass shooting at the LGBTQ center where Eddie often volunteers. The tragedy ignites passion but no action from the ensemble. It is here that an interesting possibility arises about a group of wealthy and influential people rendered impotent, trapped in a form of stasis in the face of calamity. And it’s here that Big Night might have become a razor-sharp satire along the lines of Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, in which bourgeois dinner guests find themselves mysteriously unable to leave a gathering at a lavish mansion. Instead, the play keeps hurtling forward with more monologues and no end in sight.
If these and other issues are addressed in subsequent drafts, hopefully veteran director Walter Bobbie’s work with his cast can be fine-tuned. A 2007 Tony winner for Chicago, Bobbie’s timing with the actors often brings added punch to Rudnick’s best lines. But just as often his actors are rooted to the carpet like floor lamps, listening to yet another discursive expository passage. If character comes out of action, Rudnick’s characters take no action. Their vague contours are only exacerbated by unfocused direction, hamstringing an otherwise solid cast.
Big Night plays without intermission with a running time of roughly 90 minutes, but with little plot or pacing it feels longer. Writing about Jeffrey for The New York Times, Stephen Holden compared Rudnick to Oscar Wilde. That might have been an overstatement, but one of Michael’s lines late in the play comes pretty close: “There’s nothing worse than a human being, nothing. And once in a very long while, nothing better.” It proves that Rudnick still has it. Hopefully we’ll see more of it in his next show, the musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada with a score by Elton John.
Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Los Angeles
Cast: Wendie Malick, Max Jenkins, Luke Macfarlane, Tom Phelan, Brian Hutchison, Kecia Lewis
Director: Walter Bobbie
Playwright: Paul Rudnick
Set designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Music and sound designer: Karl Fredrik Lundberg
Presented by Center Theatre Group
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
A STAR IS BORN
Paul Rudnick’s bright new comedy takes place on Oscar night. Michael (Brian Hutchison) is a journeyman actor with a career and life-changing Best Supporting Actor nomination. After years of steady theater work and occasional television guest shots, he is on the verge of becoming a star. His trans nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan) hopes when Michael wins (not if, but when) he will use the platform to lambaste Hollywood for its treatment of actors and characters who fall within the alphabet soup of LGBTQ—you can add more letters according to your generational orientation.
Everyone has his, her, or their own opinions, including his agent Cary (Max Jenkins), partner Austin (Luke Mcfarlane), mother Esther (Wendie Malick), and new friend Eleanor (Kecia Lewis). At first, it appears the play will stay focused on Michael’s acceptance-speech dilemma, but Rudnick has a lot more he wants to explore. Before the night is over, violence and hatred transform his deft comedy of manners into something deeper, though happily, no less funny.
Oh, and another little thing happens: A star is born. Max Jenkins. From the moment this theater and television veteran steps onto the stage in his shiny tuxedo pumps, he commands our attention, paralleling the play’s Cinderella story of a working actor coming into his own. His sly wit, gleeful underplaying, and unexpected moments of pathos are astonishing. Rudnick and director Walter Bobbie give Jenkins free rein to turn this “shallow” agent into the emotional heart of the show. Look beneath all his fake show-biz tinsel and glitter and what do you find? The true show-biz tinsel and glitter within.
Wendie Malick, of course, is already a star. But if she weren’t, it would take little more than the cool insouciance with which she wears her William Ivey Long evening gown to turn her into one. Her Esther calls herself a Jewish mother, but if so, she’s the wittiest, smartest, sexiest Jewish mother the world has ever seen. Esther arrives to Michael’s big night with a smashing surprise of her own (no spoilers here) and a warm heart that belies her droll one-liners.
As Michael, Brian Hutchinson has a difficult task. The character is so grateful for his career, so in love with his handsome activist partner, so lovely to his nephew and his mother, and so welcoming to everyone he meets, that he runs the risk of becoming a bit dull—like Sidney Poitier’s “Good Negro” in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hutchinson is an actor of range and color, who steers well away from making Michael into the “Good Homosexual,” but Rudnick could afford to give the character some darker notes.
Explosive, hilarious moments from Kecia Lewis pop up along the way, and her timing is beautiful. (So is her William Ivey Long evening gown.) Luke Mcfarlane and Tom Phelan are equally effective. Much was made in the press during Phelan’s run on ABC’s The Fosters about the actor’s real-life trans identity. Visibility is wonderful, but talent is what matters most, and Phelan has it to spare.
Director Walter Bobbie has a flair for light comedy, and he easily balances the emotional moments, never letting the pendulum swing too far one way or the other. For my money, Bobbie is theater. And theatre. His decades of experience inform every single choice he makes with his actors and designers. John Lee Beatty’s hotel suite set is a brilliant, towering, expensive wonder—so luxe it’s almost ugly. As already noted, William Ivey Long knows his way around an evening gown. His formal wear for the four male characters is less flashy, but just as impactful in subtler ways.
Rudnick is a comic pointillist who would have been happily at home in another era, taking his rightful place alongside the likes of Noël Coward and Philip Barry. What makes him modern and relevant, though, is his ability to find human connection in our culture’s vanities, pretensions, and obsession with celebrity. Even Libby Gelman-Waxner has a heart of gold. And I love that Rudnick is so sneaky. Here he comes with a glittering new commercial comedy. Some people might not notice that among its six-member cast, not one character is a straight white male. Change doesn’t have to wear its importance on its sleeve. Rudnick is sublimely confident in his own voice, his own humor, and his own way of seeing the world. With Big Night,he is at the top of his game.
photos by Craig Schwartz
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd in Culver City
ends on October 8, 2017
for tickets, call 213.628.2772 or visit CTG
Source: Stage and Cinema
In a posh Beverly Hills hotel suite overflowing with gift baskets, Michael, the central character of Paul Rudnick’s tentative new comedy, “Big Night,” is anxiously primping for what may be the most important evening of his life.
A dedicated gay actor whose career has balanced Shakespeare in the provinces with “Law & Order” guest spots, Michael (played with amiable earnestness by Brian Hutchison) is up for an Oscar for supporting actor. Heading off to the ceremony that will decide his Hollywood future, he wonders what expression he should feign if he loses to Matt Damon. But he’s informed by his young and excitable new agent, Cary (Max Jenkins), that he has a good shot at winning. Somehow this only makes him more nervous.
The play, which opened Saturday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre under the direction of Walter Bobbie, recalls in its bantering setup one of the playlets in Neil Simon’s “California Suite,” the one that looks in on a visiting couple from London as they prepare for the wife’s own big night and then cope with the bitter marital aftermath after returning from the Academy Awards empty-handed.
But Rudnick, the author of the plays “I Hate Hamlet,” “Jeffrey” and “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” the screenplay “In & Out” and countless New Yorker humor columns, populates his five-star suite more densely. This ostentatious room with an entrancing L.A. view becomes an LGBTQ microcosm as visitors arrive full of congratulations, special requests and dizzying surprises.
The first to show up is Michael’s transgender nephew, Eddie (Tom Phelan), who’s majoring in queer studies at UCLA with “a thesis concentration in non-binary gender expression.” He wants Michael to use his platform to make a statement about Hollywood’s lack of diversity and “historic abuse” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally and pansexual” people.
Cary, who’s out and proud himself, respects Eddie’s alphabet of political commitments but advises Michael not to shoot himself in the foot just as his career is about to take off. He’s working on a lucrative multi-movie deal. The producers of “Star Wars” want to cast Michael, who, turns out, has a thing for light sabers. This is no time for criticizing the academy.
By this point, Michael’s mother, Esther (Wendie Malick), has shown up dressed to the nines with breaking news of her own. I don’t want to give too much away, but Esther is traveling with a new friend, Eleanor (Kecia Lewis), an African American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who brings some intersectionality to the political debate Michael would rather not be having.
Eleanor inquires what pronouns Eddie prefers. (“I’m fine with he, they, hir, zir, or zee,” he answers.) Eddie asks Eleanor whether she prefers “black, African American or person of color.” (“Dealer’s choice” is her freewheeling reply). Rudnick could probably have spun an entire play lovingly satirizing this kind of politically correct social etiquette, but he recognizes that homophobia and hate crimes are more pressing concerns.
“Big Night” takes a serious turn when Michael discovers the reason his lover, Austin (Luke Macfarlane), is unaccountably late. The situation Rudnick constructs is all too plausible in an age when mass violence and displays of intolerance are regularly in the news, but the change in dramatic register isn’t smoothly pulled off.
The characters react to information that shocks and upsets but doesn’t have the power to upend them. Scenarios remain theatrical hypotheticals. The mood grows somber, but the comedy doesn’t allow the consequences of what occurs to sink in. Unreality reigns.
“Big Night” plays like a speculative humor essay on urgent themes. The interplay of perspectives is lively, but the characterizations are “types” led more by laugh lines than by psychology. The playwriting makes it hard to believe in the world inside this hotel suite, which (as designed by John Lee Beatty) seems more Las Vegas than Beverly Hills.
Comedy, as practiced by Molière, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, provides a forum for the bandying of difficult and dangerous ideas. Realism needn’t be the priority, but Bobbie’s production plays against genre, keeping the zaniness on an unnecessarily low flame.
“Big Night” doesn’t accelerate like a farce. There are curious lulls in which the actors appear stranded, waiting for rescue from Rudnick’s inexhaustible wit after something more dramatically meaningful fails to show up.
On the plus side, there’s Malick in a gorgeous evening dress (the magic of costume designer William Ivey Long) looking impossibly young and doing her best to turn the stereotype of the Jewish mother into something contemporary and original. Yes, she foists food at her loved ones in moments of crisis. And no, she never stops worrying about careers, grades, designer discounts and awards. But she plays Esther first and foremost as a woman with her own desires, needs and convictions.
If the play forces upon the character sentimental speeches that say nothing, the fault lies with the playwright, who doesn’t know how to resolve a situation that even his own characters have lost faith in.
Rudnick ought to write to his own strengths. More camp from Jenkins’ Cary wouldn’t be amiss.
Cary, who grew up in Beverly Hills wanting to be an agent, recalls his bar mitzvah at the Hotel Bel-Air “with calla lilies, a vegan buffet and twin Soviet gymnasts from Cirque du Soleil.” The theme? “The films of Jennifer Aniston,” he answers, defensively clarifying in the next beat, “The early films!”
“Big Night” may be earnest in patches, not entirely convincing and a bit thin, but Rudnick hasn’t lost his talent to amuse. The play is funny even when it stumbles and stalls.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; ends Oct 8 (call for exceptions)
Tickets: $25 to $70 (subject to change)
Info: (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (no intermission).
Source: Los Angeles Times
Paul Rudnick flounders Big-Time in Big Night, a World Premiere comedy-melodrama likely to prove a Big Letdown to fans hoping for more of the same hearts-and-minds-changing comedic magic that made Jeffrey and In & Out such crowd-pleasing delights.
It’s Academy Award night and Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Stratford (Brian Hutchison) is about to head over to the Dolby Theatre and quite possibly accept an Oscar as pay-off for years spent either toiling regional theater or snagging an occasional TV guest spot or movie bit.
Not only is this a big night for Michael, it’s a big one too for his firecracker of a new agent Cary (Max Jenkins), who’s so gay he’s got fifteen pairs of eyeglass frames (and he doesn’t even wear glasses); for his political activist boyfriend Austin (Luke Macfarlane), about to arrive at Michael’s deluxe Beverly Hills hotel suite from a stop at the Gay Center’s LGBT youth Oscar party; for his trans nephew Eddie née Erica (Tom Phelan), a UCLA queer studies major raised in the most traditional of homes; and for his mother Esther, who we know must be absolutely fabulous if for no reason but that she’s played by Wendie Malick.
Sill, from the start there are indications that Rudnick in political activist mode won’t be the writer we’ve come to know and love for his ability to poke fun at contemporary gays (whether the out-and-proud Jeffrey or Kevin Kline’s In & Out closet case) without ever becoming strident and preachy.
It turns out that Michael’s biggest Oscar competition tonight is a cisgender actor playing a transgender serial killer (if this seems very 1991 Silence Of The Lambs, it’s not the only time audiences may find themselves feeling they’re watching something written a quarter-century ago) and Eddie, selfish if well-meaning little prick that he is, wants Uncle Michael to use his Oscar speech platform (because there’s apparently little doubt he’s going to win) to lambast the Academy for its long history of homophobia!
(I’m guessing that it’s around this time that those of the non-progressive persuasion will find themselves heading for the exit rather than stick around for more of what they’ll surely see as Rudnick’s “gay agenda,” and they may not be the only ones.)
Esther’s arrival does manage to perk things up a bit, as does the surprise she springs on her son, which is that walking the red carpet by her side tonight will be her college prof Eleanor (Kecia Lewis), the merry widow’s Pulitzer-prize winning African-American lesbian lover!
But that’s nothing compared to the cataclysmic event that follows Esther’s announcement, a game-changer takes Rudnick’s comedy into stark dramatic territory (a genre most definitely not the writer’s forte) from which there is no recovery, a tonal shift not helped by the fact that the words coming out of Rudnick’s characters’ mouths are talking points and sound bites, and before you know it, Big Night has sunk quicker than Titanic.
Director Walter Bobbie and his cast do what they can with the material, Jenkins proving a particularly sassy delight as Jack McFarland clone Cary, and it’s a treat seeing Malick play a character with more depth than those she’s normally given. Hutchison, Lewis, and Phelan, on the other hand, are hobbled by their characters’ clichés, and Macfarlane, entering when he does midway, never gets to play more than anguished.
At the very least, Big Night looks absolutely fabulous as designed by a team of Broadway greats. John Lee Beatty’s gorgeous set looks to have been transported directly from the Beverly Hills Hotel, William Ivey Long’s costumes are stunners, Ken Billington’s lighting dazzles, and Karl Fredrik Lundeberg adds amusing/dramatic sound effects and some nifty original music.
Brooke Baldwin is production stage manager. Lindsay Allbaugh is associate producer. Casting is by James Calleri, CSA and Paul Davis, CSA.
Paul Rudnick fans hoping for more of what made us fall for his previous hits will be sorely disappointed by Big Night. Big Flop is more like it.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Through October 8. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 213 628-2772
September 16, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz
Source: Stage Scene LA