By Tulis McCall
Here is the thing about biographical plays. At some point the writer is going to be tempted to all into the trap od exposition – why is this person deserving of our attention. Doug Wright walked right into this one. In addition we spend about 15 minutes of listening to talk ABOUT Levant before we actually see him.
We are told he is neurotic, superstitious, addicted to whatever he can get his hands on, and – oh year – his wife had him committed and tonight he is on a 4 hour pass to appear on the Jack Paar show.
Jeepers what could go wrong?
Finally Oscar (Sean Hayes) arrives, but Hayes is not so much a character as a caricature. With his face scrunched up and his eyes squinting for no reason. He blows onto the stage full tilt and never slows for a moment.
Levant’s attendant Alvin (Marchánt David) has not been let in on the destination of this field trip and officially declares himself not responsible for Levant. Of course he sticks around because he has the black bag with all the drugs that… well, you know.
It is clear Levant is having a melt down of major proportions. He recites his history – how he became a success and then a failure. How he learned to play the piano in a way that was unique. The music in his head is all colors and he likes it that way. Except when it won’t shut off. And around the subject of George Gershwin, the noise never shuts off. His talent is a relentless haunting for Levant. Rhapsody In Blue is in his blood and he would like to get rid of it, but not really. Gershwin was his god – until he died from a brain tumor at the age of 38.
The ramblings go on and with Levant’s wife June (Emily Bergyl) promising that not only quill Oscar make it to the set, he will play the piano – something that he vows never to do.
But of course he does – and I have to say I was impressed with Mr. Hayes musicianship. For awhile I thought he might be faking but he is the real deal. This is the only moment in the play where everything falls away, and you can let the magic wash over you.
Other than that it is a hodge-podge of disappointing writing and direction. Levant is a person I saw on many a movie screen – THAT guy I cared about.
This Levant – not so much.
Goodnight, Oscar by Doug Wright, directed by Lisa Peterson
WITH Emily Bergl, Marchánt Davis, Ben Rappaport, Alex Wyse John Zdrojeski Sam Bell-Gurwitz, Thomas Michael Hammond, Stephanie Janssen, Postell Pringle, Max Roll.