Saturday, April 23, 2011
Christopher Shinn is a playwright whose popularity has always puzzled me. Once again, as with four earlier plays, I left the theater with the same feeling of disappointment that I get after eating a meal that looked great but turned out to be both undercooked and underseasoned. In Picked, now at the Vineyard Theatre, Shinn describes what happens to Kevin (Michael Stahl-David), a sensitive young actor who is plucked from obscurity by a major Hollywood director (Mark Blum) to star in a "project" that should launch his career. The overcomplicated set-up of the first act spells out how he must bare his soul to the writer/director for six months while wired up to a machine that scans his brain activity. The original intention is for him to play both the hero and the villain (a robot), but another actor, Nick (Tom Lipinski) is brought in to play the villain because Kevin's ability to differentiate the two roles doesn't satisfy the director. Meanwhile Kevin's relationship with his girlfriend Jen (Liz Stauber), an actress/waitress who can't get "picked," becomes increasingly strained. At the end of filming, Nick leaves without saying goodbye and doesn't return calls. What little tension there is fizzles out in the second act. After the film's release, it gradually becomes apparent that what was supposed to be Kevin's breakout role turns out to be a dead end. Stahl-David captures Kevin's introspective passivity well. Lipinski is a lively presence, but Stauber seemed rather flat. Blum shines as the bigshot director who can be sympathetic, menacing, foolish and astute all at once. Donna Hanover is adequate in two small generic roles. Rachel Hauck's sleek unit set is both beautiful and effective. Director Michael Wilson makes the most of what he has to work with.