Asoap opera set on a movie set reproduced with some verisimilitude onstage, “Screen Test: Take One” unfortunately hews closest to the stylistic standards of that first medium. The cliches of daytime drama pile up pretty quickly among the makeup brushes, pin lights and booms, which serve as little more than diverting window dressing. Although the writer, Jack Betts, and director Doris Roberts are acting veterans who’ve logged ample hours before the cameras, “Screen Test” doesn’t have much new to say about filmmaking and the Hollywood food chain.
Old-style director David Wanamaker (playwright Betts) has been given a day to re-cast the lead in his movie; as the play opens, preparations are being made for a day of screen tests. Up for the lead are Jessica Winter (Sharisse Baker), all ambition and oily glamour; Christine Farley (Sibel Ergener), the gifted girl with a trademark sleazy manager and a not-terribly-novel cocaine problem; and Laurie Mason (Anna Caldwell), who could be dispensed with except that she plays the comic foil during her test to the bumbling, nervous nephew of the studio boss, Tyler Hanson (Matthew J. Chaffee, who earns his laughs).
As the cameras turn, the crew wrestles with their own laboriously delineated subplots: makeup girl Fran (Elaine Giftos) is pregnant with a child by her best friend’s husband, prop guy Johnnie (Neal Matarazzo); makeup guy Bernie (Doug Spearman), black and gay, trades insults with redneck grip Tiger (standby Jack Kyle at the performance reviewed); cameraman Burt (Jeff Seal) runs on and off, first elated at being a new father, then earnestly distraught when complications set in.
As a writer, Betts has brought forth a nicely detailed bunch of characters, but he doesn’t give them anything original to say or do.
“I never meant to hurt you” is the preposterously banal closing line in one of the primary dramas. (The movie scene within the play, to which we are treated three times, is no model of innovation either; nor does it resemble any studio film produced in the past 25 years.)
Roberts ably keeps the pace rolling along, in which task she’s aided by Brian Savegar’s realistic set, comprising a soundstage and makeup and dressing rooms; Doc Ballard’s expert lighting adds to the nicely evocative filming sequences.
The acting ranges from polished to fussy. Generally, they fare best who aren’t saddled with too many histrionics: Al Sapienza as a.d. Seymour is nicely natural and draws his character with a few subtle strokes; Marilyn Lovell Matz is tartly comic and adds an authentic air as the director’s seen-it-all secretary. Ergener, in the lead, is occasionally affecting but more often mannered. “Hooray for Hollywood” is the show’s closing music, but if this inoffensive but slight play is any measure, there’s nothing new — or even interesting — going on under the spotlights.