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Albom's Wonderful Life

Someone please punch Mitch Albom in the face. No sportswriter should be so impossibly successful. His website claims he's the most decorated sports columnist in America, his book Tuesdays With Morriesold a gazillion copies, his mug is always on ESPN, his voice is always on the radio, he's a former standup comic who once opened for Gabe Kaplan. Hell, he even wrote lyrics to a song that Warren Zevon recorded.

Thank God he sucks as a playwright. Apparently hell-bent on conquering every possible communication media, that fucking miserable prick Albom (did I mention he's also founded three charities?) takes aim at the theater with And the Winner Is, an amazingly slight piece of tripe receiving its West Coast premiere at the Laguna Playhouse.

This play feels like a sports column: some decent one-liners, old-school male swaggering and objectification of women, and a few homespun homilies masquerading as cogent philosophy. Albom even borrows a page from the late, great Jim Murray by ridiculing a city for its ass-backwardness: Riverside.

Those ingredients make for great sports columns. But combine them with Albom's glaring lack of skill in the characterization, idea and language departments and you wind up with a terribly simplistic play, one as subtle as a Shaquille O'Neal bowel movement and as deep as a plate filled with water.

For a new play, this thing seems remarkably stale and ridiculously contrived, combining the worst elements of It's a Wonderful Lifeand Heaven Can Wait.The "plot" revolves around an egomaniacal actor who dies of a heart attack the night before the Academy Awards. He's up for best supporting actor and the win would vindicate the aging star of crappy cop movies. But instead of the Kodak, he's in purgatory, in the shape of an ethereal bar populated by a folksy Irish guy who apparently took the wrong left turn at a Lucky Charms commercial. To get out of purgatory, actor guy must make amends to those he pissed on in life.

It gets terribly worse by the second, whether it's the blond bimbo who leads with her ass (seriously, her ass is prominently displayed the first minute she's onstage while her head is buried), the utterly implausible plot (a woman showing up on the red carpet at the Academy Awards in order to give her husband divorce papers?), or the third grade sermonizing—be nice to people, say your prayers, sometimes you have to have faith in something bigger than yourself.

It's often said that the sports page records human accomplishments rather than failures. As someone who has recorded, and achieved, myriad accomplishments, Albom should be proud. But he should have burned this piece of dreck and focused on writing about LeBron's jockstrap.

Of course, based on Albom's pedigree and this rather sharp production, courtesy of director Andrew Barnicle, the play will probably do boffo box office and continue to be produced all around the country.

Life is grand.

And the Winner Is at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 2. $20-$59.


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