KPBS AIRDATE: February 16, 2007
Here’s a dramatic coincidence: two plays about writers in conflict and competition. About the creative process, the price of fame — and the toll success takes on relationships. One of the comic dramas is a world premiere by a 29 year-old playwright. The other is a recent work by a Pulitzer Prize winner.
The brand new play, by Itamar Moses, is getting an excellent debut at the Old Globe. Despite the deceptive title, “The Four of Us,” there are only two characters onstage. Hopscotching backward and forward in time, we see these friends at the onset of their writing careers, when they meet at music camp just after high school. And, in a series of episodic, snapshot scenes, we see two very different men later in life, when the playwright is still struggling to get his work produced, while the novelist has just snagged a $2 million dollar deal for his first book plus movie rights. The playwright is antic, funny, neurotic, envious and self-destructive. The novelist is more distant and driven, self-absorbed but unfulfilled — and ultimately, resentful. It’s a darkly comic tale of friendship and fame, with a twist at the end that feels a little contrived. But Moses has a terrific way with character and dialogue, and delicious wit. He’s clearly playing with dramatic form here, which at times trumps his story. But the direction, design and performances are a sheer delight, and we’re swept along in the tide of words, quips and relationship reconfigurations.
Comedy is the name of the game in the San Diego Repertory Theatre production of “Brooklyn Boy,” by Donald Margulies, but I don’t think that’s quite how the playwright intended it. Eric Weiss, a best-selling novelist, is crumbling under the weight of success. His ex-wife, also a writer, is seething with envy and regret. His screenplay-writing Hollywood sojourn is soul-stealing. Most of all, though, the play is about fathers and sons. About how no matter how much he triumphs, Eric cannot please the crusty old curmudgeon he calls Dad. But here, instead of emotional abuse and anguish, their interactions are played as Borscht Belt shtick. Eric is forced to face his history, his heritage and his honesty. But instead of a painful, universal story of relationships and roots, we get a familiar, comic tale of ‘Jewish boy makes good, strays from the fold and reconnects to his religion.’ Margulies had a lot more on his mind. Both father and son are less than satisfying in this production; one comes off as just a kibitzer, the other a kvetch. But the secondary characters are admirably portrayed.
If you always dreamed of a writer’s success, these two comical plays will force you to take a harder, closer look.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.