Louis Lotorto and Peggy Goss in "Blame it on Beckett" at the Colony. (Michael Lamong )
The backstage comedy has long been a favorite milieu for playwrights expressing their abiding love and keen irritation for all things theatrical.
Playwright John Morogiello takes the genre in a novel direction with “Blame it on Beckett,” now in its West Coast premiere at the Colony, exploring a dusty cranny of the theater that seldom sees the light of day.
The action transpires in the literary department of a struggling nonprofit, wittily evoked in scenic designer Stephen Gifford's claustrophobically cluttered set. The ruler of this obscure fiefdom is head dramaturg Jim Foley (Louis Lotorto, the stand-out of the show), a courageously sarcastic misanthrope who, like the doomed Fortunato, is walled in by towering stacks of unproduced and unproduceable scripts.
If playwrights were elephants, this would be their graveyard. But the dust in this creative charnel house flies with the arrival of ambitious wannabe dramaturg Heidi Bishop (a somewhat one-note Blythe Auffarth).
Ideological opposites, Jim and Heidi soon lock tusks, and both are alternately championed and betrayed by Tina Fike (Peggy Goss), a famous playwright whom Jim has nurtured for years, and Mike Braschi (Brian Ibsen), the theater's general manager, who has a yen for Heidi and scant ethical standards.
Under Andrew Barnicle's direction, the internecine finagling yields frequent laughs. All of the characters, with the exception of Jim, shift their loyalties in order to serve their ambition. Still, there's a problem of emphasis, with Heidi veering from malicious scheming to baffling remorse – motivational meandering that hedges the play's acerbity in favor of a feel-good ending. It's ironical – and somehow oddly appropriate – that the problem could have been addressed by an astute dramaturg.
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"Blame it on Beckett,” Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 2. $20-$42. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15. www.ColonyTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours.