Hollywood History: Remembering the Glory Days

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Money Shot

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Steve was once a national magazine’s “sexiest man alive” award winner and now he is just a sad icon of screen history. Karen, a veteran actress, was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in a long ago movie. These days she runs a restaurant in Malibu, has a web site and brags to all how, in the past, she did this and did that. She is a starlet whose star has faded. The pair, each about 50 years old, meet, with their significant others, to discuss starring roles in a new movie which might bring both back from the tattered trunks of history to superstardom – red carpet, People magazine cover, Entertainment Tonight lead story and all.

In Money Shot, which opened at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York last week, Neil LaBute has written a howlingly funny play about Hollywood’s history. He goes back to the early 1980s to introduce us to his players and then lets them remind the audience of how, in the past, they were nebulas of the silver screen

Money Shot veers from one direction to another, sizzling with sarcasm, until the second half, when the plotting and planning about the movie takes place. Throughout the first part of the story, we learn more than we need to know about the four characters. Karen, the over the hill, has been living with a lesbian lover, Bev, who is a film editor and former national wrestling champion. She is insanely jealous over Karen and bickers with her constantly. Karen continually belittles Bev and reminds her, again and again, that Karen owns their house and Bev is just a tenant. On the other side of the sofa are Steve and Missy. Steve, a raging male chauvinist, and Missy have been married for a year. This is Steve’s third marriage. Missy is a trophy wife and a little short on brain power. Steve is just plain dumb. He prattles on for a long time about how the public does not realize that actors are smart because they identify them with their roles. Steve disproves that. He does not know that Belgium is a part of Europe and sincerely believe that singer David Crosby is Bing Crosby’s son. All four rush to the iPhones to retrieve information that they all should know.

Everybody knows people like this. They folks drowning in their mid-life crises and badly etched historical footnotes. Hollywood is loaded with them.

There are a lot of historical references in the play, from the Nazis to Bing Crosby, and vindictive gossip about Hollywood and its stars since 1980. The theme of the play, trying to go back in time and history to retrieve lost glory, permeates the work. What Hollywood has given the country, in LaBute’s view, is a herd of witless and vapid people who are famous for being famous.

Director Terry Kinney put the play together nicely, fully utilizing Derek McCLane’s attractive set, which features the Los Angeles skyline at night outside the apartment window. Kinney pushes the play forward at a breakneck pace and yet takes time to milk all the laughs out of it. The director does wonders in showcasing the flagrant sex in the big movie they are discussing, sex intended to sell tickets. He gets really fine work from Fred Weller as the tall, lanky Steve, Callie Thorne as film editor Bev, Gia Crovatin as Missy and, best of all, Elizabeth Reaser as Karen, a drama queen if there ever was one.

One criticism for a superbly written, directed and acted play. Early on, Bev refers to Hollywood history as “a few decades,” but she is wrong, and LaBute is wrong. Movie history goes back to 1903, when the first feature came out, and Los Angeles history stretches back to the days when California was owned by Mexico in the early part of the nineteenth century. The state, city and movie colony has a long and rich history. LaBute should have made better use of that in his story. He might have mentioned many more real actors who either drifted out of the public eye or made a tremendous comeback, people like Bryan Cranston (Walter White in Breaking Bad). Mention might have been made of stars that stayed popular, such as Angela Lansbury and Clint Eastwood. The playwright should have added some real life anecdotes about actors from the 1980s that are like his characters, and there are plenty of them. He might have written a bit about how Hollywood has changed since the 1980s and how most of the stars now live around the country, not anywhere near Hollywood and Vine.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, we are all borne back ceaselessly into the past, but in this play we all go back into history with paparazzi cameras flashing, movie theme songs playing and the crowds pressing in.

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by MCC theater and the Lucille Lortel theater. Set Derek McLane, Costume: Sara J. Holden, Lighting: David Weiner, Sound: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. The play runs through October 19.

comments powered by Disqus