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A CurtainUp Review
The Money Shot

"Yeah, lotta history in this town! That's what I love about Hollywood--not like New York or places like that."— Steve. While Steve loves Hollywood, the more intellectual and less La-La land smitten Bev wonders "Why's it so im-possible to have a conversation about anything of worth in LA?

The Money Shot
Gia Crovatin, Fred Weller, Callie Thorne and Elizabeth Reaser (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Without movies and television many playwrights and actors couldn't afford to also work in live theater. Hollywood has been good to Neil LaBute, giving him a chance to write and direct original film scripts as well as adapt and direct work first done on stage, like The Shape of Things. You might say that with The Money Shot he's biting the hand that has probably fed him quite well by making fun of Hollywood, and with it the public's dumbing down and embrace if vulgarity to a point that would cause mass heart attacks for members of the long ago arbiter of propriety, Hays Office.

The Hollywood setting of The Money Shot gives LaBute a chance to create one of his favorite archetypes, the clueless male — in this case a sexist, homophobic, racist and just plain dumb action movie actor. But, since this is La-La Land, not only Steve, the movie actor and the play's only male, but the women on stage with him represent everything silly and ugly about the world of movie making. In short, even though this is billed as a comedy and it does have some very funny banter, The Money Shot once again exemplifies LaBute as an unforgiving portraitist of self-absorbed, not very likeable people.

Actually, the 80-minute comedy is as much in the spirit of Hollywood's anything for a hit commercialism as a send-up "of it since Mr. LaBute has handily given us an all-in-one package: A typical LaButian gender battle which the male is bound to lose. . .a parody of familiar Hollywood types. . .and a raunchy sex comedy (Just look up the definition of the title, and you'll see just how far those who make movies and those who consume them have come in living up to H. L. Mencken's famous "you can't go broke underestimating the taste of the American public."

The set-up is a dinner party with a purpose at which Steve isn't the only movie actor on scene. Karen (Eleanor Reaser) is his co-star in a film being directed by a trendy European film director whose idea for insuring box office success is a no holds barred scene that is a problem for even these aging, desperate for a hit actors. And it's to discuss this situation with their respective mates that that Steve and his wife Missy (Gia Crovatin) have been invited to Karen and her partner Bev's (Callie Thorne) million dollar Hollywood Hills house.

But to kick-start the purpose of this get-together and move into the raunchy sex comedy territory there's a long prequel in which we learn more about the movie stars' relationships which aren't in any better shape than their careers. Fortunately the cast manages to deliver the vituperative one-liners and escalating physical contretemps with enough flair to fulfill the play's aim to be wickedly amusing — at least for the first half hour or so.

Weller, a frequent LaBute collaborator, gleefully plays up the cartoonishness of this guy who can't open his mouth without saying something politically incorrect or just plain dumb (He's not sure that demanding director's being from Belgium makes him a European!). His obsession with appearance and youth (he wears a 70 strong sunscreen even indoors) extends to his keeping his curvacious and trim young wife constantly hungry for fear that she'll get flabby.

Eleanor Reaser is also terrific as the other narcissist desperate to hold onto her place in the Hollywood power spectrum. While not as obnoxious as Steve, she's just as shallow, her conversational output a babble of references to the good will activities and commercials she's that are all part of her keeping herself before the public. Her screams of No More Drama!" when the dinner party turns hostile, clearly doesn't apply to her own drama queen turns.

As for Missy, Crovatin makes even the much done blonde bimbo funny once more, especially in a wildly over-the top re-play of her high school performance as one of Arthur Miller's witches in The Crucible, as choreographed by Peter Pucci.

Perhaps because he knows that there are just so many new laughs you can tease out of the much done Hollywood parody, the playwright has put his emphasis on the escalating conflict between Steve and Bev which typifies the kind of interaction on which his reputation as a provocateur par excellence is built. As the one smart, educated character on stage, Callie Thorne is a worthy opponent, though she's obviously no smarter than anyone else on stage about who she chooses to spend her life with.

Despite the fine performances and Terry Kinney's well-paced direction and the designers' solid contributions, The Money Shot struck me as too slight to make it to the top of my list of LaBute plays that have made one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. By the time Steve and Bev's verbal sparring turns into a real wrestling match and the winner claims her prize it looks as if the playwright has fallen into the same anything for a laugh and a hit mindset of that director and others like him who he's parodying.

The Money Shot by Neil LaBute
Directed by Terry Kinney
Cast (in order of appearance): Fred Weller (Steve), Callie Thorne (Bev), Elizabeth Reaser (Karen), Gia Crovatin (Missy)
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Sarah J. Holden
Lighting: David Weiner
Sound: Rob Milburn & Miachael Bodeen
Choreographers: Peter Pucci
Stage Manager: Christine Lemme
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, without intermission
MCC at Lucille Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street
From 9/04/14; opening 9/22/14; closing 10/19/19
Reviewe by Elyse Sommer at 9/20 press matinee
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