From its clichd plot to its by-the-numbers execution, Richard Schenkkan's rancid attempt at screwball comedy, The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune, feels less like the work of a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright than the product of a Richard McKee screenwriting manual. If so, McKee may be on his way to ruining the theater just like he's ruined the movies.
Schenkkan purports to introduce to us a protagonist who is shifty but lovable, a rogue who spends life taking advantage of everyone, all the while successfully misdirecting others from his crooked deeds. Sorry, but we've already met this guy thousands of times. And we already know what happens to him, too—his bad behavior will catch up with him, bringing every false promise, cover-up and deceit back to haunt him.
This is "dramatic device," at least according to Story, McKee's tragically influential screenwriting format, which eliminates risk and imagination in favor of a system of quirky yet wholly traditional cardboard characters, predictable plot points and stale Hollywood formula.
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Meanwhile, Schenkkan won the Pulitzer in 1992 for his six-hour epic Kentucky Cycle, not that there's any leftovers of that inventiveness in The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune, which he wrote 10 years later.
Manipulative behavior has to be charming or at the very least wise-crackingly smartass to divert our attention. Otherwise we, a) quickly wonder why everyone around the character is so fucking stupid; or b) hate him and thenwonder why everyone around the character is so fucking stupid. As the bullshit artist, the weight of the play hangs on actor Sean Spann's lead performance. Unfortunately, his subdued presentation is Stanley Tucci when it should be Sammy Glick. Spann's a good actor, but a poor choice in what should play like a speedy, door-slamming farce.
For those of us who like characterization or story, some thought or even some humor with our comedies, the play is so unfunny, so desperately shallow, so bad, frankly, that the experience can best be described as the equivalent of going to the dentist . . . and finding the waiting room filled with McKee-style screenplays. And then discovering the dentist just ran out of happy gas.
THE MARRIAGE OF MISS HOLLYWOOD AND KING NEPTUNE AT THE UC IRVINE STUDIO THEATRE, 300 ARTS, IRVINE, (949) 824-2787. THURS.-FRI., NOV. 9-10, 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. $8-$10.