×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mizlansky/Zilinsky or ‘Schmucks’

Jon Robin Baitz's heavily revised 1984 anti-Hollywood comedy "Mizlansky/Zilinsky or 'Schmucks' " provides Nathan Lane with yet another in the actor's ever-growing repertoire of showcase roles. Re-teaming Lane with director Joe Mantello on the stage of the Manhattan Theater Club, where they scored with "Love! Valour! Compassion!" several seasons back, "Mizlansky" also marks the director's strongest work since then.

With:
Cast: Mark Blum (Alan Tolkin), Paul Sand (Lionel Hart), Jennifer Albano (Dusty Fink), Nathan Lane (Davis Mizlansky), Lee Wilkof (Miles Brook), Glenn Fitzgerald (Paul Trecker), Larry Pine (Horton De Vries), Lewis J. Stadlen (Sam Zilinsky).

Jon Robin Baitz’s heavily revised 1984 anti-Hollywood comedy “Mizlansky/Zilinsky or ‘Schmucks’ ” provides Nathan Lane with yet another in the actor’s ever-growing repertoire of showcase roles. Re-teaming Lane with director Joe Mantello on the stage of the Manhattan Theater Club, where they scored with “Love! Valour! Compassion!” several seasons back, “Mizlansky” also marks the director’s strongest work since then.

Baitz’s caustic, funny play about a pair of washed-up Hollywood producers walks the same ground as David Mamet’s “Speed the Plow,” yet Baitz, more than in his own previous (or later?) plays, goes straight for the laughs in “Mizlansky.” Mantello steers a steady course that hits the comedy while allowing the underlying drama to unfold.

Lane stars as Davis Mizlansky, a middle-aged Hollywood hustler who, along with partner Sam Zilinsky (Lewis J. Stadlen), has watched his fortunes rise and fall with the vogue for exploitation pics about bad acid trips and biker chicks. It’s now the early 1980s, and with his heyday and financial security long past, Mizlansky has forsaken the movie business in favor of a similarly risky scam that could be his last shot at the big bucks: He’s gone into the tax shelter business, offering wealthy Midwest investors the chance to sink some money into a project designed to fail — thus giving the investors a needed tax write-off — but one that will not fail so blatantly that the IRS could prove a scam.

The project: A series of children’s records retelling (very, very loosely) famous Bible stories. Among the titles are “The Last Supper” as told by Flip Wilson, and a New Testament renamed “Somethin’s Happenin’ in Jerusalem.”

With a multimillion-dollar deal pending, Mizlansky recruits a scriptwriter (Mark Blum) and once-famous TV actor (Paul Sand) to lend legitimacy to the shelter scam, the temptation of money proving hard to withstand for the idealistic duo whose careers have seen better days. A meeting is set up with a lawyer for the Midwest investors, a lawyer (Larry Pine) whose faux naivete can’t conceal his anti-Semitism (all the Hollywood players are Jewish) and cut-throat business acumen.

But the biggest threat to the deal is Mizlansky’s own partner, Zilinsky. Whether in the throes of a nervous breakdown or out of resentment for his longtime partner and nemesis, a suddenly conscience-stricken Zilinsky is threatening to work a deal with the IRS. Mizlansky convinces Zilinsky to hold off, see the Midwest scam through and flee the country with the new fortune. Everything — money, freedom, the future — rides on this one last hustle.

Set mostly in the lavish Los Angeles home that Mizlansky can no longer afford (nicely rendered by set designer Santo Loquasto), the comedy offers Lane the sort of role at which he excels: a loud, fast-talking con man who careens from exasperation and self-pity (he’s constantly accusing his much-abused assistant of betrayal) to anger and sheer panic. Needless to say, he’s hilarious at every turn.

But if Lane has the showiest role, the rest of the cast is no less effective in conveying the various guises of sleaze, from the bigotry of Pine’s lawyer to the hypocritical affectations of morality and class offered by Stadlen’s Zilinsky. Even the put-upon assistant (Glenn Fitzgerald) is a shark in the making.

Only the has-been actor, beautifully played by Sand, ultimately can’t be bought, and the deal-breaking scene in which he stands up to the scumbags is a winner (the deal might be over, but the play isn’t: Baitz has one twist left, a betrayal that few will see coming).

But as backstabbing as they are, Baitz’ characters (with one or two exceptions) are not written or played completely without affection. So desperate for work is the TV actor that he’s convinced himself playing an intergalactic space rodent on a cheesy sci-fi series could actually be socially significant. As the washed-up scriptwriter laments, these characters have been put onto the “remaindered table” of the Hollywood market. “They all look like they never sleep,” says a weary Mizlansky about the “kids” who run the new Hollywood. “They never have any fun.”

Mantello draws strong performances from the entire cast, and MTC has given Baitz’s play a solid physical production (in addition to Loquasto’s set, Ann Roth’s costumes and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting are right on target). “Mizlansky/Zilinsky or ‘Schmucks’ ” is a good deal all around.

Mizlansky/Zilinsky or 'Schmucks'

Manhattan Theater Club, Stage 1, New York; 299 seats; $47.50 top

Production: A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in two acts by Jon Robin Baitz. Directed by Joe Mantello.

Crew: Sets, Santo Loquasto; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound and original music, David Van Tieghem; production stage manager, Leila Knox. Artistic director, Lynne Meadow. Opened Feb. 17, 1998; reviewed Feb. 15. Running time: 2 hours, 25 min.

With: Cast: Mark Blum (Alan Tolkin), Paul Sand (Lionel Hart), Jennifer Albano (Dusty Fink), Nathan Lane (Davis Mizlansky), Lee Wilkof (Miles Brook), Glenn Fitzgerald (Paul Trecker), Larry Pine (Horton De Vries), Lewis J. Stadlen (Sam Zilinsky).Sets, Santo Loquasto; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound and original music, David Van Tieghem; production stage manager, Leila Knox. Artistic director, Lynne Meadow. Opened Feb. 17, 1998; reviewed Feb. 15. Running time: 2 hours, 25 min.

More Film

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The Wandering Earth'

    Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The movie was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year. It opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished it. After 14 days in theaters, the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT Gerard McMurray, director of “The First Purge,” will write and direct Michael B. Jordan’s thriller “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content