The Infinite Regress Of Human Vanity

After a raft of amusing but slight plays such as "Inspecting Carol" and, more recently, "Anton in Show Business," it may be time for a moratorium on nonprofit theaters producing plays spoofing the absurd machinations of nonprofit theaters.

With:
With: Steve McCue, Jonathan Partington, Ben Nordstorm, Paul Floriano, Mary Hammett, Torrey Hanson, Rondi Reed, Kevin Hogan, Andrew May, Kevin Brewer, Erik Andrews.

After a raft of amusing but slight plays such as “Inspecting Carol” and, more recently, “Anton in Show Business,” it may be time for a moratorium on nonprofit theaters producing plays spoofing the absurd machinations of nonprofit theaters.

In previous outings in Cleveland, actor-scribe Murphy Guyer has proved to be a wickedly funny writer with a laudable willingness to attack political correctness. But given all the sacred cows in the world, it’s painful to watch him squander his talent on a comedy about humorless dramaturgs, egotistical directors, self-centered Hollywood stars and all the other frippery of the wacky regional-theater world. It’s all just too damn inconsequential.

Too much of the time, such plays (and even movies like David Mamet’s “State and Main”) feel like a kind of passive-aggressive revenge. In this case, Guyer includes several speeches complaining about the sorry lot of writers who prefer to concentrate on comedy — they don’t get grants, they risk the ire of the PC police, they have to deal with Method-driven actors without an ounce of comic technique.

The story concerns a writer invited to a new-play festival at a nonprofit theater called Playwright House, dedicated to the care and nurturing of the American playwright. Or so it seems at the start of the evening, before Guyer lets loose with a multitude of play-within-a-play frames that toy with the audience’s perceptions. By the time the night has ended, there have been so many faux playwrights, set designers with Eastern European accents and ersatz dramaturgs, one’s eyes begin to glaze over.

The satire does allow for some juicy performances. In David Colacci’s nicely toned production, Playhouse stalwart Andrew May is very funny as the on-the-edge playwright surrounded by villains and fools. And there is solidly amusing, if predictable, character work from Rondi Reed as the miserable, Brown-educated dramaturg with a file of notes bigger than the play itself, and from Ben Nordstrom as the petulant Hollywood star doing legit purely for critical kudos and despising every second of it.

But other than offering a few solid yuks at the expense of the usual paper tigers — funders, sexually aggressive directors, bimbo-like assistants, producers from mass-media who want only trash — there’s little here to suggest this play will merit much of a future life.

The Infinite Regress Of Human Vanity

Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland; 300 Seats; $45 Top

Production: A Cleveland Playhouse presentation of a play in one act by Murphy Guyer. Directed by David Colacci.

Creative: Sets, Robert N. Schmidt; costumes, Mary Schilling-Martin; lighting, Michael Roesch; sound, Brian McQueen; production stage manager, Corrie Purdum. Artistic director, Peter Hackett. Opened Feb. 8, 2002; reviewed Feb. 19. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: With: Steve McCue, Jonathan Partington, Ben Nordstorm, Paul Floriano, Mary Hammett, Torrey Hanson, Rondi Reed, Kevin Hogan, Andrew May, Kevin Brewer, Erik Andrews.

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