Big Night = Big Disappointment
By Patrick Hurley
Sophomoric pedantry rises to dizzying new heights in Paul Rudnick’s slog-fest Big Night, which opened last night at The Kirk Douglas Theatre. It is an unfledged, didactic glob of far-left liberal moralizing—fortified with overwrought, yet undeveloped dialogue, spewed by posturing archetypes, so staggeringly far-fetched it’s almost impressive, and then the whole thing is vigorously dredged in puerile saccharine.
It would be a disservice to the act of critical thinking to try and dissect any subtext from this theatrical calamity, but since the production value seemed sky-high, thanks to a gorgeous set, designed by John Lee Beatty, and stunning costumes by William Ivey Long, I have to ask: how did this happen?
So, the story, and I use that term generously, takes place on Oscar night, where Oscar nominee Michael (Brian Hutchison), is waiting for his boyfriend Austin (Luke MacFarland) to show up so they can head to the ceremony together. Meanwhile, his sprightly agent Cary (Max Jenkins) tries to calm his nerves by coaxing his ego, psyching him up to believe he’s going to win the award, and enticing with the offers that are coming in for him. Enter Michael’s mother Esther (Wendie Malick), her new girlfriend Eleanor (Kecia Lewis) and his trans nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan), and yes, all of the characters in the play fall under one of the letters in the LGBTQ initialism.
Long story short, Austin is late because there’s been a shooting at the Los Angeles LGBTQ center, dozens of people are dead and injured, and the gunman is on the run. So the play, which up to this point feels like a mid-nineties TV comedy, complete with sassy gay one-liners and thinly drawn clichéd characters, changes gears and tries to become something profound. It fails. It fails in every attempt it makes. It tries to be politically relevant, it doesn’t work. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways. The representation of the trans character Eddie is so poor, I wouldn’t be surprised if people find it flat-out offensive.
He is a spokesman for a cause. A mouthpiece, nothing more. Oh wait, that’s not true. He also wants to kill someone. The fact that he pulls out a gun halfway through and wants to find and kill the shooter is not only beyond preposterous, but it’s also really insulting. And the fact that Eleanor, the African-American woman, is the one in the room that knows how to take a apart the gun!? Really?! Then there’s the gay issue. There are three gay men in the play, and they are thusly defined: Michael is closeted, Austin is hyper-masculinized, and Cary is the sassy gay best friend type who actually gets some funny dialogue. And in fact, Max Jenkins as Cary, is one of the saving graces in this show, (The other being Wendie Malick’s dress) his character is somewhat of an outdated stereotype, but, to use an outdated stereotype, girl owns it. I don’t know what Paul Rudnick was trying to say about being gay, other than, we should all be fine with it, but the choices made for representing the community are derisory. And nearly everything is played over-the-top yet utterly boring at the same time. This is not the fault of the actors in the show. This one hundred percent comes down to the uninspired direction. I say uninspired because blind-folded sounds too catty. Did he lose a bet? I’m serious.
Did Walter Bobbie direct this in the dark? It is so stagnate and stifled it’s mind-blowing. The actors are always on a straight line across the stage. There are no angles, no tension, there’s nothing. They robotically move from place to place, usually with no motivation or reason. Just cuz, I guess. It’s as flat as some Trump supporters think the earth is. Which is so contradictory to the hackneyed, hyperbolic situation that the entire play goes down about as smooth as a gin and Pepto Bismal. Halfway through, I found myself praying there was going to be a weird, meta-theatrical twist and the whole thing would be like a David Lynch, Mulholland Drive-type surrealistic fantasy about bad theater, because nothing this insubstantial and poorly written should be accepted. Let alone by a reputable theater company. But, by the end, not only is it not a theater fever dream, it actually could benefit from a deus ex machina, from something, anything to pull it up out of the schmaltzy and politically obnoxious hole from whence it hails. Thank god it’s only ninety minutes, which sadly is about eighty too many.
Rant aside, this is a complete disappointment. In all the years I’ve been a theatergoer, this is perhaps the most disappointing production I’ve ever seen. This type of preach to the liberal choir trend that’s happening in American theater is about as effective as Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
Art is meant to illuminate, not just reiterate.
By Paul Rudnick
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Tickets for “Big Night” are available by calling (213) 628-2772, online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at the Kirk Douglas Theatre Box Office two hours prior to performance. Tickets range from $25 – $70 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Three hours free parking with validation.