Newton’s third law of physics indicates that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. To paraphrase Sir Issac, this reviewer’s law of theater might observe that for every die-hard fan of Neil LaBute, there is usually an equally opposite reactor. Count me among the dissenters who fail to see what the big hullabaloo about this Tony and Olivier nominated playwright is all about. His dramatic voice is relatively unmistakable (although it does draw a close resemblance to David Mamet at times), and his dialogue is razor sharp. At the same time, it is vapid and cruel and falls incredibly short on the redemption factor. If this is desirable theater for you, then you will love The Money Shot.
The setting for LaBute’s latest ode to cynicism occurs in the Hollywood home of Karen (Elizabeth Reaser) , an “out” lesbian who is quick to remind everyone around her of the career she used to have. Now, she is struggling as an actress and coupled with her lover, a headstrong film editor, Bev (Callie Thorne) . Their banter throughout the entire evening shifts between affection and accusation, a distinct contrast between their visitors, Steve (Fred Weller) and Missy (Gia Crovatin)-a couple so incredibly dense they make a cheese sandwich seem intelligent. Still, they’re too self absorbed and smitten with one another to even notice or care.
Enter the dramatic tension : In order for Karen and Steve to recharge their careers, they must act out a sex scene in the current film they are shooting-a film which may re-position( no pun intended) their star status. The conversation evolves around what they will and will not be permitted to in their intimate screen moment. Missy and Bev observe from the sidelines and offer their opinions and allowances. Bets are placed and a wrestling match later ensues between an exhausted Bev (frustrated by Steve’s oblivion) and a testosterone laden Steve. In typical LaBute style, nothing is left to imagination about the sexual proceedings that will ensue. All four carry the piece in brisk, witty fashion under Terry Kinney’s sharp direction and there are some laugh out loud one-liners showered throughout this MCC production. A particularly hilarious scene includes Missy re-enacting a scene from her high school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In the end though, the play feels as empty as the characters themselves.
Are blatant descriptions of coitus and misogynistic epithets considered quality play writing? Like any art, this is a matter of subjectivity. Perhaps the interactions in LaBute’s world may generate conversation about how we interact with one another in our real worlds. Yet even if the questions are asked and answered, The Money Shot doesn’t forge any new ground in the “lambasting and lampooning of LA” drama genre. Commentaries on the superficial landscape of Hollywood have been around since…well…Hollywood started making movies.
The Money Shot plays off Broadway now through Oct. 19th at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street, slightly east of Hudson Street). For tickets and more information, visit http://mcctheater.org/