We’ve all been there. A ticking clock on the wall counts the hours that you’ve been trapped in this small room, waiting for some sign. Waiting for the door to open and for your fate to be pronounced. You size up the people around you, who are all either a joke to be ridiculed or a giant to be conquered. Meanwhile, a woman dressed in a black leotard puts her head between her knees, her butt in the air and says “Butter Baby Basket,” over and over again. Okay, so maybe not ALL of us have been there.
But even if you’re not one of the thousands of actors diligently reporting to open calls in New York, you’ll find something in Push Productions’ hilarious Actors are F*@#ing Stupid that addresses humanity’s universal obsession with attention, praise and, most importantly, seeing the other guy fail. Don’t bother to look for characters connecting on any genuine level. As in life, so it goes in the vicious acting community — it’s every narcissistic moron for themselves.
Ian McWethy’s new play surveys the broader landscape of audition culture, by bringing into focus four actors at a volatile try-out for an unnamed MTV movie. The auditions in question are being run by ill-tempered producer Bill Lawrence (think Scott Rudin on steroids) and Doug, a writer/director who takes his dumb teen comedy way too seriously. When the A-list celebrity slated to star in the picture bails, Bill and Doug decide to cut their losses (and their budget) by casting two unknowns in the lead roles. Enter Amy, Jennifer, Johnny, and Steve: four actors, at varying levels of baseness, who will do anything to get the part.
A realistic sense of anxiety saturates McWethy’s characters, and you get the feeling that he’s definitely been through at least a couple of “cattle calls” in his day. The ambling way a polite conversation about agents, day jobs or technique can escalate into a shouting match within minutes is quite funny. More importantly, each character seems to represent a different school of “actor marketing.” There’s the one with rich parents, the one with nothing but looks, the one willing to sleep with any producer in town—you get the picture. You won’t find any Lawrence Olivier’s in this catty crowd. But these different… ahem… viewpoints give the play an unpredictable atmosphere, where potentially any character can pop off at a fellow actor for no more reason than that they’re more marketable.
Director Michael Kimmel and the discreet Ben Kato (who designed both set and lights) keep any signs of their handiwork to a minimum, preferring instead to let McWethy and the splendid cast tell the story. Thankfully, there was no distracting splendor in Kimmel’s practical environment — just a few necessary pieces of furniture. With the exception of at least two awkward scene transitions, the show clicked along without interference.
As actors playing actors, it’s difficult to imagine someone NOT having a good time in this show. Roger Lirtsman, Susan Maris, Heidi Niedermeyer, and Wil Petre all – of course – have an intimate knowledge of the world McWethy is addressing. No doubt, they have all met some pretty similar characters in their careers. While they all nail the humor and subtlety of the piece, Petre’s clueless Johnny is particularly genuine. As manic producer Bill Lawrence, the tremendous Tom Escovar is probably the star of the show and is always appropriately loud, sleazy and sexist. Josh LaCasse almost proves himself worthy of sympathy as Doug, but in the end he delightfully proves to be just another loathsome Hollywood hack. In fact, only Carrie McCrossen’s character deserves any actual compassion here, as the vigilant casting assistant and punching bag.
So, after years of hard research on the acting circuit, McWethy’s thesis-like Actors are F*@#ing Stupid arrives at an honest, obvious and entertaining conclusion. Yes, actors are probably pretty stupid. They work so hard for years just to get a job for one day, selling sneakers or pretending to be a murder victim. But don’t blame them! Producers are stupid, too - they throw billions of dollars at dumb projects that will only make them millions back. Don’t forget about the stupid directors and writers! If they're not on strike to demand more money, they’re egotistically revising history or toying with our emotions. And you know what? We pay top dollar for all of it. That’s the point. Sure, they look dumb, but we’re giving them our money.
I guess we’re the ones who are f*@#ing stupid.