“Picked,” the new play by Christopher Shinn, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Dying City,” can’t possibly be as trivial as it seems — can it? Surely there’s some substantial thought behind this thin cautionary tale about a young actor whose career comes to a skidding halt after he stars in a famous director’s innovative sci-fi movie — isn’t there? Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell, in this stilted production helmed for the Vineyard by the Hartford Stage a.d. Michael Wilson and enacted by some fatally boring thespians.
The real mystery in this baffling piece is why John (Mark Blum, way out of his comfort zone), the egomaniacal film director with the vision, should cast a certain actor named Kevin (Michael Stahl-David) as his lead to begin with. Although he barely looks at Kevin and cuts him off whenever he tries to speak, John declares this unknown actor to be exactly the kind of “captivating” performer he needs to play both the heroic captain of a doomed space ship and the villainous robot that challenges his authority.
The story isn’t written yet, because John is going to script it from the raw material from Kevin’s own neurological brain scans (seriously!). But the despotic director, a technocentric genius who appears to have been modeled after Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron, is certain that Kevin has the artistic integrity, the emotional complexity, the intellectual depth, and of course, the “captivating” personality to both deliver the brain matter and play the characters that emerge from it.
But what does this guy know about human behavior anyway? He lives in a futuristic house (the chilly design is by Rachel Hauck) that is all sliding panels, recessed neon tubing, and elevated slabs of flat, hard, polished materials that are an open invitation to fall and crack a bone.
Meanwhile, Kevin hasn’t articulated a remotely provocative thought — nor will he for the remainder of the play — and Stahl-David (“Cloverfield”) hasn’t shown the slightest evidence of the character’s charisma. So, when an actor-clone named Nick (Tom Lipinski, boring) unexpectedly takes over one of the two lead roles, and when Kevin’s long-suffering girlfriend (Liz Stauber, boring) gets fed up with his all-consuming work schedule, Kevin’s tepid reaction to these crises destroys all hopes of something dramatic happening.
Whatever Hollywood does to destroy sensitive young artists, is it really clever enough to suck out their brains?