A washed-up screenwriter turns college professor in Bruce Graham’s familiar indictment of Hollywood as a venal, crass place rife with liars. When one of the professor’s students writes a marketable script, he tries to muscle in on the action, only to have the deal blow up in his face. From Odets to Mamet, playwrights have loved to hate Hollywood, and Graham (who, like the others, is biting the hand that feeds him) adds his voice to the list. Slimy and aggressive, Gavin Miller’s (Bruce McCarty) notion of moviemaking is market-driven; if they want to make a cartoon version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” with a happy ending and songs by Elton John, well, why not? His movie credits are all “crap,” but crap sells, and he can teach formulaic scriptwriting, using the classroom as an arena for his strutting ego.
As his wife, a cashed-out finance wizard, Carmen Roman wears a benign smiley face most of the time as she discovers the joys of gardening and visits pregnant neighbors and book clubs.
As the awkward student, Jeremiah, Tobias Segal creates a complex portrait of a conflicted, seemingly innocent kid fueled by fantasies of old-time “Top Hat” glamour. (The few surreal “Singing Detective” moments of song and dance go on way too long.)
Act one sets up these irritatingly flat characters, and then act two flips them in unlikely ways. Naive Jeremiah is not so naive after all: He has cut a deal with a Hollywood agent and copyrighted his script. Gavin faces his failure and — in about two minutes — relinquishes his Hollywood dream. Husband and wife cozy up on the sofa to watch “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Without the passion of “The Big Knife” or the ferocious humor of “Speed-the-Plow,” “True West,” or “Hurlyburly,” “According to Goldman” doesn’t add anything new to the I-Hate-Hollywood theme song.