L.A. Story

The Jungle Theater's Silver Lake skewers the lot of the self-hating screenwriter

However much delight writers take in savaging Hollywood, these pathetic creatures fear nothing so much as its apocalyptic end. Consider the panic that sets in during riots, fires, and mudslides.

As I remember it from my residency there, the scene is one of hundreds of SUVs simultaneously fleeing toward Santa Barbara, each containing one badly frightened writer making dozens of desperate telephone calls to his agent and studio. "I was supposed to meet with Saul on Monday," he bleats. "Is this going to affect the project?"

The players: The Hollywood hustlers of Silver Lake
The players: The Hollywood hustlers of Silver Lake

To be fair, these writers can hardly be blamed for their bile (usually just misplaced self-loathing): If there is any way you can make an ass of yourself, the film industry will let you seize that opportunity. I never attended a Hollywood party that wasn't lined with screenwriters, all huddled in the corner, shivering like sewer rats, eyeing the host as though at any moment they expected to be thrown out onto the streets. Once in a while one of these writers would corner a young starlet, first boring her with his complaints and then proclaiming a plan to return to the Midwest and write for the theater. There he would pen a play exposing the whole crummy underside of the goddamn town.

Karl Gajdusek's Silver Lake is that play.

Director Bain Boehlke has had the good sense to cast Steven Hendrickson in the project, playing an established screenwriter with--let's see, how would they delicately put this in L.A.?--issues. He's rich and embarrassed about the fact. He feels he constantly must compromise his artistic vision--which, as revealed by his incessant pitches for a script about a computer-generated supermodel, proves to be hilariously limited. He's got a trophy wife (Kelly Hilliard, seeming as if she is going to throw off her clothes at any moment) and an appalling fixation on a long-lost girlfriend (Marquetta Senters as an artist who creates pro-choice sculptures out of hangers, hair, and raw meat). Hendrickson wears his self-loathing as naturally as others wear Armani suits. He crows barbed dialogue like a pompous rooster, slicking back his hair and flashing nasty little looks of joy from beneath his heavily lidded eyes.

Hendrickson's character has ample opportunity to make an ass of himself when his ex- and her current paramour (a cocksure young screenwriter played like a strutting cowboy by Steven Sweere) show up to spend the night. These two couples meet, betray each other, and then, it only follows, scheme to destroy each other.

I must confess that I liked the play better the first time I saw it, when it was called Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Gajdusek hews closely to the Albee script. For example, Hendrickson makes vague comments about a secret throughout Silver Lake; I half expected it to be that he has no son at all, he just made it up, Martha.)

We know the evening is going to go from bad to worse, and it does so in a poisonous cocktail of Chinese food, drugs, and indulgence. Unfortunately, the story never really deteriorates as it should. Hendrickson consumes a heroic number of pills at one point, but then he simply engages in more morose self-pity--this at the point where I would be rolling around on the ground, whimpering, and obsessively rubbing my eyes. And that's the core problem with the play: It wallows in bland selfishness where there should be Day of the Locust-style madness.

I could go on with my complaints, but the party is starting to wind down, and the hostess is giving me funny looks. Ah, she is coming over. I suspect she is going to ask me to leave.

 
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