by Cynthia Citron
It could have been a one-man play, with Christopher Dietrick going through the trauma of becoming famous all by himself. He was magnificent. But he was surrounded by 11 other fine actors who helped him along on the road to madness.
“Famous” a new play by Michael Leoni, who also directed it, opens in the Hollywood Hills home of Jason Mast (Dietrick) where a variety of show biz “types” are coming and going. It’s an impromptu party to celebrate his nomination for an Academy Award as Best Actor of the year. It’s 1994, and Jason is enmeshed in fear, anxiety, and wordless screaming as he thrashes around the living room, running wildly and banging into walls. And all the while he is being harassed by the constant shrill ringing of the telephone.
He is joined by his girlfriend Alyssa (Megan Davis), and together they share drugs, but not sex, as he is too strung out to let anyone touch him. But later in the evening Alyssa engages in a three-way orgy in the upstairs bedroom with Jason’s brother Dylan (J. Michael Trautmann) and another of Jason’s friends, actor Ryan Logan (Alexander Daly).
Heather Hayes (Decker Sadowski), a popular actress with long blonde hair and a bright red evening dress, arrives with her boyfriend Brody (Thomas McNamara). They are joined by a 16-year-old ingenue named Caley Miller (Jacqi Vene) who is wearing nearly nothing but a bra stuffed with Kleenex, a tiny black skirt, and a loose white fleece jacket that she wears draped around her body like a misplaced boa.
Heather, who had earned her “stardom” on the casting couch of producer Jack Rossi (Gregory DePetro), takes the innocent Caley under her wing to protect her from the rapacious advances of Rossi, but Heather’s warning goes unheeded. Caley dances around, posing and attracting attention, and then, excited by the prospect of possibly becoming a protege of Rossi’s, playfully pretends to allow him to seduce her. She is undone, however, when the seduction turns to rape.
While all this activity is going on, Jason watches from a big screen near his desk that focuses on each room in the house and captures the “hookups” between the various men and women, men and men, and women and women.
Continually shooting drugs up his nose, Jason is haunted by memories (hallucinations?) from his past. The “star” of these debilitating memories is himself as a 15-year-old aspiring actor (played beautifully by Derick Breezee). Affable and shy, he endures being bullied by his manager (Rosanna De Candia), his mother (Rachael Meyers),his director (Kenny Johnston, who also doubles as interviewers as Jason’s career progresses), and finally Rossi, who constantly reminds him, at the top of his lungs, that “I MADE you!!!”
All the factors involved in becoming a leading man add up to his current state of decrepitude, but Dietrick in portraying the older, addled Jason, gives a performance that would certainly win him a Tony if this play were staged in New York. And, to his credit, Breezee, playing the Young Jason, matches him well. As the two tackle each other and perform as if they were in a ballet, the younger boy badgers his older self for having succumbed to the overpowering intensity and immorality that often accompanies the quest for fame. These periodic pas de deux between the two men were, for me, the high points of the play.
Another high point was the unobtrusive soundtrack by Conner Youngblood that featured nearly three dozen musical pieces quietly attuned to the people and activities onstage. Also noteworthy was the comfortable and practical design of the house created by David Offner.
In the end, a soliloquy by the older Jason harks back to a time when he wanted nothing more than to become an artist and to perfect his art. It was a lost time, he says, when he still believed that “Art comes from the soul.”
“Famous”, produced as an 11:11 Experience at The 11:11, 1107 North Kings Road, West Hollywood, can be seen Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 7 through Sunday, Dec. 2nd. For tickets, call 323-378-6969 or online to firstname.lastname@example.org.