The challenge in writing a play about Hollywood is to avoid stereotypical characters and to give the material the appearance of novelty. By that measure, David Knapp’s “Staccato” is a disappointment: You’ve seen all the characters and the situations before. On the other hand, director Ron Link’s harsh noir quality is so much fun that at times the production reminds one of Clifford Odets’ “The Big Knife.”
The shadow of Odets and Budd Schulberg’s filmland novels, not to mention a few of Nathanael West’s locusts, are the play’s curse and its salvation.
For audiences — even industryites who are all too familiar with what director Link in a program note calls “emotional toxicity”– the bottom line is that the performances, dialogue and direction are theatrically ripe and entertaining.
Knapp’s writing ripples with sharp, staccato dialogue and bristles with edgy Hollywood denizens. Among them are a femme fatale and Hollywood cobra with legs like swords (slinky, bitchy Sarah MacDonnell), a jaded, cynical screenwriter (Eugene Robert Glazer), his wide-eyed young writing partner (Cameron Watson) and their crassly affable, nonstop blathering producer (Anthony Russell). #The production’s tone is darkly comic. Arriving for a surprise visit, like characters in Oz, are the young screenwriter’s dithering mom (the lovably funny Edith Fields) and, briefly, the young writer’s old friend (A.J. Glassman).
Watson’s talented pup of a studio writer nicely mirrors youthful idealism, and his personal and professional relationship with the jaded Glazer character is flavorfully calibrated by both actors.
Their opening scenes will remind old-timers of the disastrous teaming up of F. Scott Fitzgerald and tyro Schulberg (dramatized in the latter’s “The Disenchanted”).
Contributing distinct flavor are David Benoit’s haunting, jazz/rock-fused score and John Terlesky’s interior design, tripling in its deliberate austerity as office, bedroom and writers’ nest.