Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From: The Palm Beach Post

Date: October 4, 1994

Author: Hap Erstein

What highly personal sacrifices would you be willing to make to produce a movie that could reap untold fortunes? That's the question of the day in Arthur Kopit's Road to Nirvana, a raunchy, overtly comic stage sendup of Hollywood deal-making and spiritual values. It is an amusing entertainment, but not for the tame of heart or tender of ears and not to be taken too seriously.

The theater loves to snipe at the movie world and Kopit does so with a gleefully outrageous and foul-mouthed verve here. True, he doesn't have much to say beyond moviemakers are incorrigibly two-faced vermin who will do anything for a box office blockbuster. But he expresses the unoriginal notion with such unabashed excess that - for the first act, at least - he is able to sustain the trashy merriment.

It would help your enjoyment of Road to Nirvana and the very hip, free-wheeling Area Stage production if you were familiar with David Mamet's dig at Hollywood pomposity and duplicity, Speed-The-Plow.

Kopit is both satirizing and paying homage to that tug-of-war scenario, as well as trying to outdo the master's obscenity output. Lest we miss the parallels, Kopit originally named his prank play Bone-the-Fish.

He reunites two former producing partners - Al, a successful packager of big feature flicks and Jerry, whose conscience and taste removed him from the studio fast lane and onto the dead-end track of educational films. For motives not entirely clear, Al offers Jerry a chance to team again on a hot property written by and starring egocentric rock star Nirvana (who has more than a coincidental resemblance to Madonna).

But first, Jerry's commitment must be tested. Does he want the project enough to slit his wrists? To eat excrement? To give up a highly personal part of his anatomy? Ah, the big issues of show biz.

As he escalates the tests, Kopit also raises the comic stakes. He has a been-there command of Hollywood meetings and of the movie executive's smiling insincerity. He spoofs the mind-set by giddily expanding on the patter and patois, which renders the verbal exchanges at least as comic as the loyalty tests. Unfortunately, he stretches the fun too far with a repetitive second act that - worst of all - begins to take seriously what he had just savaged.

The good news is the Area Stage cast, directed with an assured, inventive hand by Joseph Adler, remains on course even when the play goes south. Chaz Mena (Jerry) and Dave Caprita are wonderful comic foils for each other, getting impressive variety from their cat-and-mouse mind games.

Elle Maslanova gives a canny spin to the role of Lou, Al's seemingly dimwitted business partner. Her deadpan sarcastic line readings are very much on target and her nonchalant toplessness in the play's opening scene certainly sets the evening's tone effectively.

Darin Jones cleverly manages two visually stunning sets - Al's palatial patio and Nirvana's temple-like digs - on a shoestring. Kopit has stretched his Hollywood joke beyond the breaking point, but Area Stage fulfills his scabrous vision and keeps the laughter coming longer than it deserves to.

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