Although the topic of his play is the very definition of trite -- a naive young man's Candide-like quest for purpose and direction in a world that values nothing but fame and fortune -- Jonathan Marc Sherman sends up this familiar material with irreverent originality.

Storyteller - Larry Block Rex - Peter Dinklage Henry Tollman - Josh Hamilton Hope Braverman - Keira Naughton Ernie Braverman - Armando Riesco Gina Bello - Ione Skye

The backstory on this self-styled “modern morality tale” is as catchy as the subversive comedy onstage — and goes a long way to explaining how a Hollywood glam girl like Ione Skye (“River’s Edge,” “Gas Food Lodging”) wound up playing a modest role in an Off Off Broadway show at an East Village theater. Urban Empire hooked Skye and the rest of the play’s young creative team with its short but flashy track record of developing hip work like “Worldly Acts,” based on stories from Francis Ford Coppola’s literary mag Zoetrope All Story and seen in New York and L.A.

Jonathan Marc Sherman (“Women and Wallace,” “Sophistry”) is just the kind of articulate and generationally savvy playwright on which upstart companies like Urban Empire rely. His ironic humor and pop culture mindset appeal to a youthful audience that thinks it knows it all, while the educated wit of his satirical style assures an older generation that he’s not just talking to wiseass college kids. Although the topic of his play is the very definition of trite — a naive young man’s Candide-like quest for purpose and direction in a world that values nothing but fame and fortune — Sherman sends up this familiar material with irreverent originality.

Popular on Variety

The spineless posture and blank expression adopted by Josh Hamilton for his winning portrayal of this woolly headed lamb are telltale clues to the existential dilemma of Henry Tollman, a 22-year-old Harvard student supposedly hard at work on his thesis on Darwinian evolution. Tipped off by an omniscient Storyteller (a world-weary pedant in Larry Block’s droll performance), we learn this young scholar is such a purist he intends to write his opus without using words with the letter “e.”

But under the interrogation of his faculty adviser — “What do you want? From school, from life, from me, from yourself. What’s something you really want?” — Henry confesses that all he really wants is to know what he really wants. Although we’ve heard this schoolboy lament in a million coming-of-age plays, Sherman’s mock-heroic version has a decidedly fresh feel to it.

Time flies in Lizzie Gottlieb’s fluid production, which uses multiple video screens, Brechtian scene titles and pop-art projections to keep this mythic quest moving through an Alice in Wonderland landscape of bizarre characters in surreal settings. Whisked off to Los Angeles over spring break by his take-charge girlfriend, Hope Braverman (played by Keira Naughton with the lusty spirit of a baby Brunnhilde), Henry is exposed to all the cool, corrupting social influences — cartoons, phone sex, designer drugs, direct sunlight — from which Harvard had insulated him.

But instead of being struck dumb from culture shock, Henry becomes a true Darwinian, talking the lingo of the locals, embracing their pantheon of gods, adapting to their tribal customs. Under the cynical guidance of Hope’s kid brother (Armando Riesco, in the kind of bravura performance that leads to guest shots on network series), Henry dreams up a TV series, “Adam and Eve,” that wins him fame, fortune and the delectable Skye.

Will Henry lose his Hope — not to mention his intellectual faith and cultural chastity? Will he win his Emmy at the price of his immortal soul? Will he ever finish his damned thesis? Although Sherman has some amusing thoughts on these and other burning questions, he doesn’t really know how to resolve his play, which stops at the crucial point when Henry has to live with the Darwinian choices he’s made. If not a second act, then a sequel seems in order.


Bleecker Street Theater; 99 seats; $15

Production: An Urban Empire presentation of a play in one act by Jonathan Marc Sherman. Directed by Lizzie Gottlieb.

Creative: Sets, Andromache Chalfant; costumes, Daphne Javitch; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Christopher Libertino; video, Edmond Deraedt; graphics, Heidi Fener; production stage manager, Erika Timperman. Opened Sept. 30, 2002. Reviewed Sept. 28. Running time: 1 Hour, 15 Min.

Cast: Storyteller - Larry Block Rex - Peter Dinklage Henry Tollman - Josh Hamilton Hope Braverman - Keira Naughton Ernie Braverman - Armando Riesco Gina Bello - Ione Skye

More Legit

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

  • 'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With

    'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Zawe Ashton has signed with CAA, Variety has learned. Most recently seen on Broadway in the hit revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betryal,” Ashton is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. In addition to being an in-demand actress, Ashton is a director, playwright and author. While earning critical raves for “Betrayal,” Ashton made her debut as a [...]

  • Michael Feinstein Kristin Chenoweth Sutton Foster

    Jerry Herman Memorial Set for Feb. 3 at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

    A memorial service for Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Michael Feinstein is producing the tribute, which will feature performances from a number of notable legit stars, including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. Angela [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content