Sunday, 14 September 2014

Neil LaBute's THE MONEY SHOT produced by the MCC Theater

     THE MONEY SHOT is one of the thinner plays Neil LaBute has written, basically a half hour one-act play stretched into one hundred minutes. We get the point about these characters early on.
     The setting is a multimillion dollar home in the Hollywood hills, owned by Karen, an aging Hollywood star, blogger and entrepreneur and shared with Karen's partner, Bev, a bright combative assistant editor. From what we see, this is not a relationship made in heaven. There may be physical attraction, but it is not clear what else holds them together. Karen is a model of Hollywood narcissism and self-absorption and Bev lives to poke holes into the stupidity and pomposity of Hollywood "talent."    Also present is Steve, another aging Hollywood star, a cartoon version of the ignorance, vanity and inflated ego of an action star and a more exaggerated version of LaBute's favorite villain, the clueless male. Steve is all things politically incorrect -- sexist, racist and homophobic -- and just plain dumb. It is typical of his limited thinking that he doesn't believe Belgium is in Europe. Steve has brought his young wife, a twenty-first century version of the bimbo. For two thirds of this play, we have the conversation of these characters, who basically reveal themselves in the first ten minutes. Steve makes stupid, offensive comments, Bev, herself a version of the stereotypical abrasive lesbian, angrily contradicts him, Karen tries to regain the spotlight and Steve's wife says something even more stupid. We in the audience sit there wondering when we are going to find out why these people have come together. When we finally get to the premise, it's a flimsy one, not even worthy of being called a McGuffin. Eventually the verbal sparring between Bev and Steve turns into a literal wrestling match, which leads to the usual LaBute revenge. The straight white male is brought down literally and figuratively.
     There are funny lines, but LaBute's Hollywood characters are cliches. Over half a century ago William Inge wrote a funny one-act called "A Social Event" about vain, self-absorbed Hollywood actors planning to crash the funeral of a leading producer. Since them, we have seen many versions of Steve and Karen over the years. What more can one say about them? Some of the dialogue is funny, but how often do we need Steve to say something profoundly stupid and for Bev to argue with him?  How often do we need Karen scream "No drama!" while being very dramatic? When the inevitable LaBute vengeful plot twist comes, it isn't much of a surprise.
     Terry Kinney has directed the play effectively and the cast does all it can with the repetitive material. Fred Weller is a veteran of many LaBute plays and makes a game try at fleshing out a cartoon character. Bev is the only character with a modicum of depth and Callie Thorne shows that she is more than a foil for the two "stars." Elizabeth Reaser and Gia Crovatin do all they can with all the repetitions of lines and gags.
     LaBute's premise is that Hollywood will eventually turn to pornography-- real sex instead of simulated sex -- to keep its audience. To make his point, he peppers the last third of his play with lots of sexually explicit language for shock value and easy laughs. Isn't he falling into the same trap as the people he is satirizing?
A disappointment.
THE MONEY SHOT, MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. September 13, 2014.

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