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LETTERS TO EDITOR
I didn't see either the original one-act, one-scene version of Big Al at Ensemble Studio's One-Act Marathon series or the 1993 24-minute Showtime film, but I gather that both covered the same territory as the first of this full-length Big Al' s four scenes. Though this expanded story, which moves from the 1996 opening scene to the present, retains its connection to the Al Pacino gimmick throughout, the first segment now seems to merely jumpstart another play. Same characters. Much more serious, but much less credible.
Evan Bergman, who ably directed two other Arclight productions, does his best to crisply move along the saga of the bipolar Leo (Juan Carlos Hernandez) but hampers himself by ambitiously staging the play with a different set for each scene. The klutzy movement of wall panels and props only serves to exacerbate an overall sense of disconnection. Sure, Leo is the main character in each scene, and the finale brings his story to a conclusion of sorts, yet somehow it all feels like four separate little plays.
Scene one introduces us to the very young, poor and more than a little crazy Leo and his more grounded friend Ricky (Jordan Bridges). Both are wannabe screen writers and we get to watch them cook up a plot that will appeal to Big Al (no doubt intended as an ironic comment on the manufactured quality of today's movies). Scene two shows how Leo and Ricky's lives have taken very different, and not entirely unpredictable, turns. Scene three introduces a thriller element via a third character, Frank Rose, Jr. (David Thornton), a scary mirror of Leo's lingering fantasy life. Scene four is a redemption of sorts, in which friendship triumphs and it's left to your own sense of optimism to picture what happens next.
Hernandez, who has heretofore played mostly supporting roles, brings passion that veers toward excess to his star turn as the voluble and volatile Leo. Jordan Bridges (son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd) as Ricky valiantly struggles with some of the play's most corn-fed lines, as when he justifies his choice to work on a bill-paying kids' show rather than aiming for loftier screen writing. David Thornton, his hairdo evoking images of Kramer of the Seinfeld series, is aptly menacing in the play's most entertaining segment, a late night encounter in an empty movie studio.
Goluboff is a playwright who will be worth watching once he gives up trying to add novelty to much explored territory and asking audiences to suspend quite so much credulity. In Big Al he asks us to overlook some pretty big holes. For one thing, neither Leo and Ricky are convincingly talented. There's also the business of Leo's incarceration. It's unlikely that he would be institutionalized for years at a time when our mental institutions have been steadily emptied out (though Goluboff IS realistic in sending him back into the world unrehabilitated).
The dream of success in that most influential of pop mediums, film, is familiar but it is certainly one that speaks to a large audience. According to an article in this week's New York Times, some 26, 000 people have signed on as members of a web site called Project Greenlight on which aspiring film makers criticize each other's work and hope to find collaborators and producers. This is just one of several such web sites, one run by Kevin Spacey, whose name, like Pacino's, is sure to lend luster to any project. If Mr. Gobuloff keeps building on Leo and Ricky's story, his next scene may well be written around an Al Pacino web site.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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