An acidly written comedy about lust and treachery on the Hollywood food chain, Roger Kumble’s “d girl” has the chutzpah to lacerate the people who will constitute its only audience. Featuring David Schwimmer playing a morally repellant variant of the goof-charmer Ross he plays on “Friends,” it’s a small but wickedly funny morality play about the biz that will be packing in young players looking for a little vicarious self-flagellation to ease their queasy consciences.
The main character is Julie Rosen (Jennifer Crystal), of the species named in the title. If you aren’t familiar with the profession, you won’t want to see the play. (And for that matter, why are you reading this paper?) She’s put-upon, naturally: “You try finding a story angle for the Zone Diet!” she wails. We find our heroine on the day of her first big studio pitch meeting, which unhappily coincides with a visit from her boyfriend from New York (Tom Hodges), a pediatrician who wants Julie to leave the corrupting jungle of Hollywood and return to civilization.
But Julie’s already caught up in the intoxicating insularity of the biz, and one of the play’s chief amusements is its dead-on delineation of this singular universe. “Pediatrician? What kind of job is that?” snorts Schwimmer’s character, Jeff, a successful hack screenwriter who’s the pitcher of the day. When Julie’s boyfriend dismisses as trash the most recent release from the company she toils for, Julie counters, in high dudgeon, “It opened to $19 million!”
Jeff’s chief aim (this week) is to get Julie into bed, though he puts it less delicately. Coarse, venal and frighteningly cruel, Jeff is nevertheless outmatched in the moral vacancy department by Julie’s boss Lisa (Andrea Bendewald), president of production for Glinkman Entertainment, whom Jeff enlists in his task.
In her boot-cut black stretch slacks stretched over her lithe frame (Allison Reeds’ costumes are aces), her blond tresses screaming $100 haircut, and with an air of commanding contempt for all human endeavor outside her own sphere, Bendewald’s Lisa is the picture of the monster boss of industry lore, and she’s played to perfection. Spitting variations of the word “fag” from her lips moments after chatting about her “gay friends” (gay industryites might be given pause by the use of that epithet as the players’ insult of choice), Lisa shores up her power by a studied use of intimidation and humiliation. The treatment of that other Hollywood staple, the intern, at the hands of both Lisa and Jeff is a chilling picture of the casual use of humiliation in Hollywood as a drug no less addictive than the Ecstasy Jeff casually pops.
The question the play poses is simple: Will Julie be seduced by Jeff and become a fellow monster by play’s end, or will she leave Hollywood with her sweet boyfriend? That there is no in-between course possible is a measure of Kumble’s cynicism about the business, which seemed to be uneasily shared by the audience at the reviewed performance, which rocked the theater with gusts of knowing laughter. Irony No. 1, of course, is that the sweet boyfriend is drawn with such dull moral simplicity that there’s not much of a question; with everyone but him getting the punch lines, he’s hard to warm to.
As Julie, Crystal captures well the combination of fear and ambition that is the steady diet of the Hollywood underling (along with Ice-Blended Mochas from the Coffee Bean, one of what feels like several hundred of-the-moment references that swarm the play, so inside-Hollywood as to make “Four Dogs and a Bone” seem allegorical). Schwimmer seems to be having a ball playing a very bad guy who’s nevertheless half neurotic charm. But Bendewald almost astonishes with her commitment to the steely nastiness of her character, achieving a verisimilitude that’s downright scary, though her glamour and comic style are never less than entertaining. Given the nature of the play’s audiences, Bendewald may come out of the run with a sitcom deal, or a studio exec position — and, really, why not both?
Kumble directs his play with appropriate dispatch, but though it comes in at just an hour and a half, it becomes wearying some time before the finish. Unlike fellow Hollywood hatchet men John Patrick Shanley in “Four Dogs” and David Mamet in “Speed-the-Plow,” Kumble draws his characters with little depth and no nuance, so the question of Julie’s moral fate remains of little moment. That these people are shallow may be the point, but it makes for a dramatic handicap that no amount of in-jokes, however on-target, can make up for.