Play: Based on a Totally True Story
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: February 19, 20, 21
Tickets: $18; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org
Story: Ethan has problems. He has a very busy job as a comic book writer, propelling The Flash to ever speedier and more dangerous adventures. He also has a play about a sea monster that takes the surviving son of a couple whose other son drowned and submerges that child as well. Against all odds, his play is picked up as a movie option and guided by a hard-driving producer, who then suggests a series of banal alterations to the script. Meanwhile, Ethan meets and falls in love with a steady, reliable fellow named Michael who writes for the Village Voice and has his own aspirations for penning a novel. Last but not least, Ethan’s father arrives in New York City with the news that his marriage to Ethan’s mother is unraveling, largely because Ethan’s dad has fallen for another married woman. It sounds like Ethan has his hands full.
Highlights: Someone, somewhere, thought this two-act effort by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was funny stuff. Granted, there are several moments of hilarity that ensue as our feckless hero does his best to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and another Aguirre-Sacasa effort, Say You Love Satan, had a very funny rendition by HotCity Theatre a few years back. In this West End Players Guild production of the playwright’s 2006 effort, director Robert A. Mitchell culls solid performances from his cast to make this flimsy, self-indulgent pablum more palatable than might otherwise be the case in less gifted hands.
Other Info: John Wolbers has an abundance of energy and utilizes that attribute to a fare-thee-well in his frenzied, manic portrayal of the comic book artist with aspirations of Hollywood stardom. Although entertaining to a point, the histrionics grow weary after a while because Ethan is pretty much a self-centered jerk. While his concern about his parents’ breakup and his occasional passion for Michael give him some depth and texture, his obsession with personal satisfaction at the expense of everyone else makes him mostly unsympathetic.
Michael Perkins contributes a solid effort as Ethan’s long-suffering boyfriend Michael, while Sarajane Alverson has a grand time vamping up proceedings as the tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners Hollywood agent, a familiar cliché but still humorously essayed by Alverson. Alan McClintock offers a nice contrast to Ethan’s exaggerations with a nicely subdued turn as his encouraging if distant dad, while Leo Gregory Stoff presents turns both offensive (a crudely stereotyped Asian-American clerk) and amusing (Ethan’s gung-ho comics boss, a shallow West Coast actor and a glassy-eyed computer nerd).
Mitchell provides the tidy set design, utilizing a pair of desks and a sofa for scenes in New York (Ethan and Michael’s apartment), Philadelphia and Los Angeles (locale of Mary Ellen the producer), all greatly enhanced by Perkins’ imaginative and humorous visual graphics that play on the back wall, with lighting courtesy of Tony Anselmo. Michele Sansone dresses Mary Ellen in an amusing wardrobe of power outfits, including one she wears to a soccer game, and nicely contrasts the personalities of Ethan and Michael in their respective garb. Mitchell and Perkins put together the mod background sound.
Too bad the cast and crew spent so much time and energy on still another in the recent, endless succession of shows written lazily by people intent on drawing attention to themselves and their self-proclaimed cleverness. Blame it all on “reality TV” and mediocrity’s insatiable quest for recognition.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.