NEW YORK—Playwright Neil LaBute gets too involved in his own verbiage in his latest off-Broadway comedy The Money Shot, presented by MCC Theater. His work asks how far a person will go to remain on top of the Hollywood food chain.
A meeting in the Hollywood Hills between two couples may hold the key to reviving two actors’ faltering careers. Steve (Fred Weller), once a major action star, has seen his pictures start to weaken at the box office. He’s also turned 50, though he continually insists he’s only 48, putting him on the wrong end of the age spectrum in youth-obsessed Hollywood.
He was a frequent favorite of the tabloids as he has a couple of ex-wives, various children, and has gone the rehab route more than once. He’s also a misogynist and is currently married to Missy (Gia Crovatin), a 20-something wannabe actress.
Currently Steve is co-starring in an “artistic” film with Karen (Elizabeth Reaser), another star who’s seen her stock go down of late. While she’s kept busy by creating a media empire, she’s also desperate to halt her slide in popularity.
Karen lives with Bev (Callie Thorne), a film editor and someone so politically sensitive that any off-color joke or remark will set her off. Bev also can’t stop correcting people whenever they say something she knows to be wrong. She has never learned the value of tact—something particularly called for in the situation these four people find themselves.
The powers that be on Steve and Karen’s movie want to spice things up by filming the two stars actually having sex. Steve has brought his wife over to Karen and Bev’s home so the two couples can discuss the matter and for Steve and Karen to see how far their respective partners will let them go once the cameras start rolling.
Unfortunately, the specific reason for the four getting together is not clear until 70 minutes into the 105 minute play. The preceding time has been taken up with general sniping—each partner putting down the other—such as when Steve constantly gives Missy backhanded comments about her weight, Karen tells Bev how it was her money that bought their home, or Bev continually corrects Steve’s verbal mistakes.
While some of these exchanges are genuinely funny or nicely expose unresolved issues between the couples, they also get in the way of moving the story forward.
More importantly, none of these characters come off as particularly interesting, and so one doesn’t really care about them. Steve especially seems more a caricature than anything else.
There is also far too much coarse language present, much of it used chiefly for shock value rather than any specific purpose.
LaBute seems to be saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” by trying to make Steve and Karen see the situation from Bev and Missy’s point of view.
However, he makes the arguments too one-sided, especially when pitting Steve against Bev. Their confrontation culminates in a finale that is not at all believable and only ends up showing how Bev and Missy are just as morally bankrupt as Steve and Karen.
The four actors all do good jobs with their characters. Weller gets in a few hysterical moments as the vapid Steve with his complete surety about things—only to be proved wrong time and again. (Things such as David Crosby’s relationship to Bing Crosby and whether or not Belgium is actually in Europe.)
Reaser is fine as the outwardly restrained and inwardly insecure Karen who must continually one-up everyone in an attempt to keep at the center of the conversation.
Thorne does a good slow burn as Bev when trying to deal with Steve’s inane and sexist comments, as well as the various looks Karen shoots her when she steps over the line of civility.
Crovatin is very good as Missy, who proves to be the most adaptable and realistic character in the play, especially when her character comes to recognizing her potential as an actress. (It would have been nice to see more of the back story of how she and Steve got together in the first place.)
Director Terry Kinney nicely stages the play with some interesting physical action and makes full use of Derek McLane’s impressive set. But his efforts, like those of the actors, are trapped by a script that takes far too long to get where it’s going.
Neither a sharp satire nor a frank look at the lengths people will go in order to remain on top, “The Money Shot” is more miss than hit.
‘The Money Shot’
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or MCCTheater.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Closes: Oct. 19
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.