Desperate Writers at the Edgemar Center -- Review

Did you hear the joke about the dumb-blonde actress? ( She's sleeping with the writer.)

In this screwball comedy, the writers strike the producers -- this time, literally.

Ashley (Kate Hollinshead) and David (Chris Pertschler) write for love (Photo by Michael Lamont).

Desperate Writers is an original two-act farce about a young couple with middle-class day jobs who take desperate measures to get their long-gestating movie screenplay taken seriously by three jaded producers. David (Chris Petschler) works as a pet photographer, and his collaborator-girlfriend Ashley (Kate Hollingshead) runs an upscale catering business. She's impatient to marry him and get a bun in the oven before her timer runs out, but he keeps complaining about getting his "ducks in a row."

Ashley gets a devilish idea (Photo by Michael Lamont).

The lead duck, of course, is the much-anticipated sale of their baby, a romantic-comedy script about a con man who falls in love in a twist of fate that involves a winning lottery ticket. Driven past the edge of prudence by their lack of luck, the writers decide to "force" the producers to take a meeting. Stir in a lot of other elements -- including having it all take place at Halloween -- and the result is madcap, verging on mayhem.

David "pitches" to Burke (Joshua Grenrock) and Jessica (Catherine Schreiber) (Photo by Michael Lamont).

Gerald: We just saw What Just Happened? and the fifth episode of Entourage, so it's seeming like the silly season for insider Hollywood stories.

Georja: It's those kinds of showbiz situations where the artist is up against seemingly impossible, irrational, and erratic naysayers. Being writers ourselves -- and who isn't in this town? -- these encounters are all too familiar and at times almost painful to watch.

Gerald: That's the challenge with a Hollywood story. To audiences in town, it can be alternately funny and pathetic. But take it on the road, and I wonder.

Georja: Given the success of Entourage and a big De Niro movie about showbusiness, I think middle America might still be enthralled with the Hollywood scene.

Gerald: As the old studio bosses used to say, "Will it play in Peoria?"

Georja: The fast-action, short-scene sketch-comedy quality of this show doesn't really allow for much character development. It starts as a fantasy and ends as one too.

Gerald: The stereotyped characters are part of the joke.

Georja: Yes, but to me the highlight of the show was the hilarious monologue by producer-character Leo Goldberg (Peter Van Norden). He breaks through his stereotype when he delivers his rant about the plight of a producer trying to find a hit. His head is on the line, and he begs for sympathy in a big, schticky way--which is also believable and leaves the audience rolling on the floor.

Burke and Jessica are joined by producer-character Leo Goldberg (Peter van Norden, center) (Photo by Michael Lamont).

Gerald: He implies that writers have to cope with mere rejection, but the producer faces professional death.

Georja: I want to give a nod to the direction by Kay Cole, one of this town's most accomplished directors and choreographers. Not long ago we saw her staging of Bark, a musical that has become one of my all-time favorites. Actually, Desperate Writers would be a lot of fun as a musical too.

Gerald: Turning it into a musical would crank up the silliness, and I don't think, given the material, you could turn it up too loud. You have to love wacky.

Georja: Those wacky elements include a company of zany characters who pop in and out. (The rest of the cast includes Vincent Giovanni, Judy Nazemetz, Chris Stacy, Amanda Troop, and Miki Yamashita.) Some of the scenes are like fast-paced vaudeville. The directing and choreography of that business is brilliant. And unusual for small theater.

Ashley and David have a captive audience (Photo by Michael Lamont).

Gerald: You've got your real-estate rep, your fast-talking agent, your secretaries and receptionists, and your actor-wannabe thugs.

Georja: I love to attend events at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. It's a wonderful venue with its Frank Gehry design, continuous art shows in the lobby, and comfortable seating. It's a large stage for a 99-seat house, and there isn't a bad seat in it.

Gerald: And they had food! It was as though Ashley's catering company had taken over the lobby. They had hors d'oeuvres and pastries, and they were pouring real wine (not the Kool Aid they have to drink on the set). Very classy and sooo Hollywood.

Georja: At the Edgemar, Michelle Danner is executive artistic director, Larry Moss is artistic director, and Alexandra Guarnieri is the managing director. Alexandra also produced this show.

Gerald: We should mention that two of the nefarious producers in the play are also its real-world writers--Burke (Joshua Grenrock) and Jessica (Catherine Schreiber). They play an estranged BevHills power couple, with chilling believability. So, Georja, just gimme the bottom line...

Georja: Lots of talent and some big laughs. Fight for your scripts!

Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Desperate Writers. World Premiere engagement of a new comedy.
Written by Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber
Directed by Kay Cole.
Produced by Alexandra Guarnieri

Edgemar Center For The Arts
2437 Main St.
Santa Monica, CA 90405.

Opened Saturday, October 18, 2008, runs through Sunday, November 23.
Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

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