At least it’s not about a dysfunctional family. This time it’s a group of dysfunctional writers who are blocked, burnt out, and distracted.
The play is “The Portman Delusions”, which stars Adam Mervis, who also wrote it. He is a good actor (he plays Roy), whose head appears to be on upside down: shaved on top and anchored on the bottom by a beard so thick and bushy that it appears to be glued on.
His distraction is Jamie (Kate Spare), a ditzy molecular something or other that he met casually and has sex with every time she appears.
The second writer is Mark (Brice Williams), a fearful man who has a nervous breakdown at every opportunity.
And then there is Clare (Shi Ne Nielson), who sleeps with her boss, Kurtz (Jeff Kerr McGivney), who once had an affair with Natalie Portman and hasn’t been able to write anything since she dumped him.
Clare is a heavy-duty cynic who delivers lines like “It’s all a lie in the beginning of a relationship” and “Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had sex instead of talking?”
“We’re not good people,” she admits at one point.
Roy’s dilemma is that he wants to “write something that matters,” and decides to write a novel about his grandfather, who had been a CIA agent in Budapest who fell in love with a Russian spy and had to decide which was more compelling: his love for her or his love for his country.
Meanwhile Mark has to figure out what he wants to do. If he can’t make it as a writer his alternative is law school.
Mark and Roy are freelancers, but when the studio buys Roy’s novel they give him $150,000 to turn it into a screenplay. This puts him under pressure that he can’t withstand.
The pressure comes from Keith (Thomas Burr), a studio executive who is obsessed by the fact that he went to Harvard, and manages to refer to it in every sentence he utters. Sometimes twice.
By the second act Roy has become a “super computer” who speaks in numbers and binary codes. He makes weird noises, howls, and stares into space. When he’s lucid he bemoans the fact that he has lost all feeling, and urges Mark to “write while you’re still feeling something.”
The studio ups the pressure by deciding that Roy’s novel should be a television series and Kurtz delivers a cogent commentary about what will “sell”, what won’t, and why.
In between, everyone has delusions about Natalie Portman. They want her to be in their productions, and Clare is furious because she thinks her boss is still in love with the superstar.
Although the play itself is fast-paced, it bogs down considerably in its presentation. The set is furnished with several leather couches and some small tables which are shoved around into different configurations to denote the change of venue from apartments to offices, to cafes. It’s a clever way to deal with a very small stage, but unfortunately, moving the couches involves a distracting blackout which occurs every couple of minutes.
The play is directed by Thomas Burr, who plays the Harvard-obsessed Keith, and the ensemble works well together in what is not a particularly engaging play.
In the end, Roy apparently regains his sanity after having been shot in the foot. Which might be construed as a metaphor for the play itself and for the playwright, Adam Mervis, as well.
“The Portman Delusions” will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm through November 4th at the Raven Theatre, 5233 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com.
by Cynthia Citron