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'The Gyre' [Review]

by Photo of Paul Hansen

Executive Producer of ‘Two and a Half Men’ writes and stars in an off-Broadway play.

'The Gyre' [Review]

Sarah Lemp as Jessica, Mark Roberts as Jack Story and Matthew Pilieci as Clinton Smiles in Enter at Forest Lawn. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

The New York theater company The Amoralists is presenting The Gyre, which the company refers to as "a two play repertory exploring man's vicious cycles." More specifically, both plays--Enter at Forest Lawn and The Qualification of Douglas Evans--examine some of the darker aspects of the entertainment business.

Enter at Forest Lawn: An Insider's Dark View of Hollywood

Enter at Forest Lawn is written by and stars Mark Roberts, who has a formidable Hollywood resume. He was the head writer and executive producer for Two and a Half Men for seven seasons, created Mike and Molly and was an executive consultant for The Big Bang Theory for three seasons.

The play takes place in the office of Jack Story (played by Roberts). Story is a high-level TV producer in the midst of trying to sell his top-rated sitcom into syndication for two million dollars an episode. The deal is being threatened by the troubled life of the star of the show, and Jack feels harassed by what he considers an ineffectual assistant. 

Added into the mix is Marla, an agent and sometime rival of Jack's who asks that he find a writer's job for her nephew, Clinton. Clinton is a veteran whose war-damaged hand has been replaced by a hook, and Clinton has a confrontation with Jack that forms the climax of the play.

Roberts portrays Jack as a ruthless Hollywood operator of boundless energy who will do whatever it takes to bring entertainment to the video-starved masses. Jack is distinctly aware of the billions of dollars at stake from a successful TV show, which gives his character a believable sense of urgency. Jack himself often emerges as a stereotype of a hard-driving, high-level Hollywood executive.

In his performance of Jack, Roberts reminded me of a particularly aggressive George Carlin. It was wise to keep the running length of the script to seventy minutes, as the relentless cynicism, energy and bitterness that infects Jack's office verges on being overwhelming. 

The theme of Hollywood as a cutthroat environment isn't exactly new (Clifford Odet's The Big Knife and the 1952 Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner film The Bad and The Beautiful come to mind). But considering Roberts' background, it is interesting to view a theater piece about Hollywood written by someone who has worked in the entertainment industry at such a high level. If art truly does imitate life, anyone considering a career in Hollywood after viewing this play might want to give the idea a second thought, and perhaps a third.

Matthew Pilieci also gives a unique performance as Clinton. With his slithery movements, Pilieci's portrayal added a slightly surreal touch to Enter at Forest Lawn which reminded me of the atmosphere of the Coen Brothers film Barton Fink.

Samantha Strelitz as Cara, Penny Bittone as Director and Derek Ahonen as Douglas in The Qualification of Douglas Evans. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

The Qualification of Douglas Evans: Art and Addiction

Playing in rep with Forest Lawn, The Qualification of Douglas Evans makes reference to the 1962 film, The Days of Wine and Roses. Like the Jack Lemmon film, Evans deals with the debilitating effects of addiction. 

Evans, an aspiring writer, moves to New York from Ohio at the age of 18. There is a series of flashbacks to a troubled childhood and a dysfunctional family life; his father was a painter who became an alcoholic, thus establishing the pattern for his son's future self-destruction. Evans becomes involved in a series of destructive relationships with several woman and writes a play that fails, further fueling his emotional disintegration. Even when he achieves some success as a playwright, his alcoholism causes him to throw opportunities away.

Neither Enter at Forest Lawn nor Douglas Evans deal with particularly novel themes, but Forest Lawn is at least concise and relatively focused. Although the topic is important, the downward spiral of Evans, while realistic, is largely predictable and over-long. The script would likely benefit from some significant reworking or cuts from its current two-and-a-half-hour running time.

The playwright of Douglas Evans, Derek Ahonen, appears in the production as the title character. In his performance, Ahonen projects a sense of vulnerability which makes the dependence on alcohol credible. 

Elements of the play reminded me of Macbeth, in that many of the female characters seemed to exist mainly to tantalizingly facilitate Douglas' self-destruction. Those who need to be reminded of the dangers of addiction would probably find Evans rewarding, though the journey through the inferno feels a bit meandering and lengthy.

Enter at Forest Lawn and The Qualification of Douglas Evans are playing in rep through August 9 at Walker Space, located at 46 Walker Street. For more information, check out The Amoralists' website.

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