A masked man armed with a handgun breaks into the Riverside Drive apartment of theatre critic Simon Frank and threatens to kill him. From his voice and his distinctively bad prose, Frank recognizes his attacker as Jonathan Burns, a playwright whose latest play Frank has savagely panned. Burns accuses Frank of panning the play while praising an actress in the play who both are courting in order to drive a wedge between him and the actress. After Frank has gained the upper hand and called the police, Burns seeks mercy from Frank, explaining that, when it was announced that his play was closing, he got drunk, armed himself with a gun, and came over only to scare Burns. It develops that Frank has written a play, but cannot have it produced in his own name because he is a critic (apparently no one ever told this to Walter Kerr). Frank will not press charges against Burns if Burns will front for him as author of the play. Since it is either "Broadway or prison," Frank has no choice but to go along.
Much of the fun is in the comic byplay. When Frank criticizes Burns' play, he is critiquing the play which we are watching (i.e., an extremely short first act causing an imbalance with a far longer second act; and that, like most two two character plays, loses momentum after its initial set-up leaving the viewer to have to endure two talking heads). Frank's observation is that "critics don't close plays, producers do." The enthusiasm that the critic and the playwright share in trashing other writers reminds us that all audiences, including writers themselves, are critics who trash theatre that meets with their disapproval. I'll allow myself to share just one more taste of author Charlie Schulman's humor. Frank and Burns concur that, faced with a bad play, audiences should stand up and say, "Why is this piece of shit on stage. I want my money back."
Warren Kelly (Frank) and Brad Fraizer (Burns) throw themselves into the farcical situation with high energy and fine comic timing. There is little character nuance in either the script or the performance. Director Dana Benningfield keeps everything moving along at a fast clip.
Character Assassins continues performances (Evenings: Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturday 3 pm & Sunday 2 pm) through October 31, 2010 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740. Box Office:732-229-3166; on-line: www.njrep.org
Character Assassins World Premiere Play by Charlie Schulman; directed by Dana Benningfield