Is "The Last Word" the last word on Hollywood? Can there ever be a definitive tome on Tinseltown?
Obviously, Tony Spiridakis' play, premiering at Open Fist Theatre, isn't the first morality tale about the mirage above Sunset Boulevard. From the 1937 "A Star Is Born" to "The Player," the movie biz has damned itself more severely than did its outside critics. But Spiridakis might have crafted a more original assault had he taken into account previous Sammy Glicks and Norma Desmonds. His "Last Word" resembles a weirdly fascinating remake of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow."
Retitle it "Speed-the-\o7 Pistol\f7 ," as Doc Puglesi (Tim Pulice, hilariously depraved) wouldn't leave home without his .45. Or, at least, the pistol is his constant companion in Detroit, where Doc escorts Free Press columnist Martin Delios (an appropriately tormented Scott Mosensen) on safaris into urban hells. At the Baby Doll Lounge, stripper Brigitte (an uneven Melissa Lechner) captivates the journalist. Martin pursues her, discovers her secret past, then writes a column about his latest love.
But Doc has been working behind the scenes, pushing the reporter as a screenwriter to movie producers. "Hollywood is like this big bank," Doc exclaims after a studio calls, "and there's no one with a gun guarding the gold."
The journalist protests: "What are you? My agent?"
"No," responds Doc, "I'm your best friend. That makes me your producer . . . . You rip people off, and I am the person who feeds them to you."
Dialogue such as this is Spiridakis at his best. Doc and Martin form a classic con-artists-on-the-make duo. These two buddies are the soul of "The Last Word," and while they're manipulating each other we're dazzled.
Unfortunately, the play's heart is in the wrong place--with the sentimental, unbelievable Brigitte. She accompanies the boys, but her loathing of Hollyweird rings false as fool's gold. The play attempts to transform her into a tragic Marilyn Monroe figure, but this small-town girl's pathetic, pretentious protests distract us from the only game in town--making it. Missing is the irony, ambiguity and humor that cloaked Mamet's Madonna-figure in "Speed-the-Plow."
Director Dean Yacalis, however, paces the plot like an action movie, with swift scene cuts. This speeds the play along, and despite the \o7 deja vu \f7 of yet another Hollywood expose, we're thrilled to once again tour our favorite boulevard of broken dreams.
Fortunately, "The Last Word" isn't the last word on the business Mamet called a "sinkhole of slime and depravity."
\o7 * "The Last Word," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 11. $15. (213) 882-6912. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. \f7
Valdez's 'Bernabe' Stuck in the '60s
Luis Valdez wrote "Bernabe" in the late 1960s, and its psychedelic roots show at Theatre Geo in this belated Los Angeles premiere. An hallucinatory fable set in a San Joaquin Valley town, "Bernabe" resembles a bad LSD trip.
The title character (an earnest Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez), a migrant farm worker suffering dementia from pesticide exposure, has fallen in love with the earth. He lives in a dirt hole and makes passionate love to \o7 la tierra\f7 . His mother (a droll Dyana Ortelli), perpetually bound to a cross, berates her son. His cousin (Michael De Lorenzo, wasted in the evening's least complex role), struggles to rescue Bernabe from his obsessive pantheism. An exploitative brothel owner (a villainous Mike Gomez) lures him into the arms of "a real woman"--one of his whores--to disastrous effect.
Bernabe's disintegration produces mythic visions. La Luna (Gomez) materializes, a precursor to the El Pachuco narrator of Valdez's "Zoot Suit." When this celestial hipster makes love to La Tierra (Linda Lopez) only to be extinguished by El Sol (a miscast William Marquez in Aztec warrior garb)--well, it's difficult not to drop out, especially when the mumbo jumbo is burdened by director Barbara Martinez Jittner's reverent pace.
There are wonderful sequences, especially the slapstick routines of the town drunk (Pete Leal, an exceptional clown), and one can gain insights into Valdez's artistic process. Many of the themes the mature Valdez honed to perfection lie latent in this text. But "Bernabe" itself will forever remain another perplexing artifact from the psychedelic era.
\o7 * "Bernabe," Theatre Geo, 1229 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 13. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
'Buttercup' Borrows Much From TV
"Buttercup," the Attic Theatre Ensemble's New Play Festival's first-place winner, is essentially a staged television docudrama about sexual abuse at a preschool. But the media influences are well-disguised by Will Aaron's deft direction.