With Martha Stewart hanging with the likes of Puff Daddy, the Hamptons and other playgrounds of the unidle rich can make strange bedfellows, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Clinton assistant Sidney Blumenthal should find himself on a playbill alongside provocateur Christopher Durang at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. A half-dozen other notable playwrights have supplied sketches for “Fit to Print: Remotely Controlled,” but this scattershot strafing of our media-addled age gets most of its comic zest courtesy of a versatile cast of Broadway names.
Durang’s mildly absurd “The Entertainment Report” is a highlight of the first act, as the peppy hostess of an “Entertainment Tonight” clone undergoes a meltdown while obsessively questioning her dazed and confused celebrity guests about their intimacies with Major Stars.
Randy Graff, Tony winner for “City of Angels,” plays the disturbed inquisitor , who breaks off her persistent queries about whether Robin Williams is really funny when he’s off camera to announce cheerily that she’s just had several small strokes. Her ditzy guests include the vaguely giggling starlet Felicia Ferrante, in a funny drag turn by Tony winner Roger Bart (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”); and Robert Sella’s equally vacant Jimbo Dunfee, whose claim to fame is having gone to high school with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
The sketch plays like a warmup for (or out-takes from) Durang’s rather nastier “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” but it enjoyably mocks our inundation with showbiz trivia, as the boom in entertainment news outlets gives rise to ever more pointless probing of stars’ lives.
The one-size-fits-all nature of news anchors is the subject of Marsha Norman’s “R.C.A.” (for remote-controlled anchor). The blonde news reader impersonated with smarmy accuracy by Joanna Glushak is not just generic but robotic (legs are optional). Among this model’s unique talents, Sella’s eager salesman tells his station manager customer, is making all news stories sound equally earth-shattering.
Craig Lucas imagines the excesses to which the thumbs-up mentality might logically lead in “Unmemorable.” While one couple cavorts under the sheets, an all-seeing eye registers a critical assessment that their friends read in the papers the following day; a friend, exulting in the critical sniping, finds her own most private moments the subject of similar appraisal from the observer, who admires “the brio with which she still refuses to wash her hands …”
As may be gleaned, many of the skits are essentially a series of riffs on a single point, and the points tend to be taken well before the sketches conclude. Virtually all of them have the air of quickly tossed-off exercises (most were commissioned for the occasion by the Bay Street Theater), but even the weaker offerings supply material for choice caricatures from the cast.
Wendy MacLeod surely could have come up with some zingier material for “Tina at the Times,” which posits our era’s most famous editor in chief taking over the city’s newspaper, but Graff gets to trot out an amusingly sniffy British manner as Tina exhorts her staff to come up with something sufficiently sexy for page one. (Sella’s spot-on impersonation of an admiring lackey is a highlight of the video segments that link the sketches.)
Blumenthal’s “This Town” takes aim at the White House press corps, as a bunch of avid-for-a-lead correspondents spin the question of the First Puppy’s dietary habits into a scandal of headline-making proportions. Bart is the deadpan White House press officer, replete with spinning podium (he does a graceful pirouette) , with the rest of the cast aptly cynical as the jaded press.
The evening concludes with one of the stronger pieces, David Ives’ “Captive Audience.” Sella and Glushak perkily play a version of TV’s famous Rob and Laura , trying to plan an evening out and being foiled by the seductively threatening enticements of their TV, its insistent soundtrack of pain-reliever ads, cheesy movies and news bites imitated by Bart and Graff.
Here Ives raises the most unsettling question of the evening: Just who is really in control of that clicker, the viewer or the TV? We like to think we are — but then why is it so very hard to put it down?