Legacy Stage should be commended for taking a topic, usually sub-plotted at best, and putting it in the forefront – and playwright Allan Provost should be commended for writing it.
The Gray List deals with that dirty three letter word – age. It’s the story of John Brooks, a talented – and from what the props and wall decorations imply – celebrated screenwriter, whose dry spell is starting to look like a plot.
Screenwriter Brooks’ supposition is made painfully true when his agent of many years informs him that his star is starting to fade thanks to the fact that he’s acting his age in a world where the young and “hip” rule.
Brooks devises a plan to hoist these whipper-snapper-wannabes by their own petard by employing the nephew of an old friend to masquerade as a young “hip” writer, but hawking John’s screenplays all the while. Sort of like Cyrano de Bergerac finding a Christian to woo the Roxane called Hollywood.
Allan Provost’s caustic, nostalgic, and at times uproarious wit, combined with Laurie Rae Waugh’s naturalistic staging weaves a parable that was both entertaining and enlightening.
Mr. Provost’s subtlety created numerous delayed-but-nonetheless-belly-laughs (“he worked with Felix what’s-his-name…” “Tony Randall!”) and Ms. Waugh’s astute use of dimensions created cool breezes on the patio and starry nights filled with sports cars in and out of driveways.
The characters created to utter these prose were indeed pros. A majority of mature characters gave the story that much more punch.
Thomas J. Kane as John Brooks gave a charismatic showing as the author losing his touch and his hair;
Kitty Hendrix gave a fine performance as Brook’s long suffering wife whose own problems regarding her marketability as an actress are dwarfed by her husband’s writers roadblock. She also served as a Greek chorus watching the action and letting the audience feel the tension through her eyes;
Vincent Iannuzzi made the Hollywood or bust nephew both menacing and moronic – allowing us to alternate between hating him and pitying him;
Alan Charney played the not-so-secretly gay agent with great subtlety allowing his feelings to come across only in a silent turn or a breath of a pause giving us classic closeted behavior – see, hear, say nothing.
But the finest of the evening was Marilyn Duryea as the faded Hollywood starlet who is just happy to be remembered. Ms. Duryea could have fallen back on stereotypical gestures and delivery but managed to bring a fresh take to this character, allowing us to see the heart of an actress of the bygone days supplying moments of genuine depth and unique thought.
Mr. Provost should be commended again for giving her such lilting dialogue.
The play and the production do have flaws. The play – in formula – bears more than a passing similarity to Ira Levin’s murder play of the same era – down to the sometimes a comedy, sometimes not motif.
The subject matter – ageism and homophobia – should have been hit harder in places. Maybe deeper money woes for the Brooks family, more exposition regarding the agent’s AIDS-ailing lover, or more menacing moments for Iannuzzi could have raised the stakes. The costumes and set, while serviceable, could have had more touches of the era for which the play takes place, the mood music sometimes fit and sometimes did not, scene changes were challenging logistically, AND all the characters seemed to drink too much.
But these issues did not prohibit the audience from enjoying the night. That’s what runs like this are for, to hone promising works so that they might become larger productions or … … maybe a movie?
The Gray List runs till Sunday at the American Theatre of Actors.
Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services. He and his partner of 27 years call New York home – even though they live in New Jersey.