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1 + 1

Theatre Review by James Wilson - March 1, 2023

Katie North
Photo by Florian Wahl
Eric Bogosian's 1 + 1, now in a production by The Black Box at SoHo Playhouse, appears in the long tradition of plays about Hollywood. Kaufman and Hart's Once in a Lifetime, David Mamet's Speed the Plow, and John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone are just some of the titles that come immediately to mind. First performed in 2008, 1 + 1 is receiving its Off-Broadway premiere, and if it lacks the wit, nastiness, and bite of the previous plays, it's good to have Bogosian represented on New York stages after a long absence.

The play begins in a mid-scale Los Angeles steakhouse, and Brianne (Katie North), a waitress and aspiring actress, strikes up a conversation with one of her customers, Phil (Daniel Yaiullo), a Hollywood type with a British accent. Phil, it turns out, is a photographer–not a producer as she had hoped–but she takes him up on his offer to provide free headshots.

Once in his studio, it doesn't come as much of surprise to learn that Phil's altruistic headshot offer is merely a ploy to shoot photos below the starry-eyed waitress's face. She reluctantly consents to model for him, and before long, they are raking in thousands of dollars a week from internet traffic surfing Brianne's nude images. A torrid love affair fueled by alcohol and crack cocaine follows, and Brianne has become a different kind of Hollywood star than she had anticipated. Carl (Michael Gardner), the steakhouse manager who is not so secretly in love with Brianne, tries to stem her swift and steady descent.

The second act takes place five years after the first. Phil had abruptly abandoned Brianne after absconding with their money, but in the meantime, he has gotten clean, married, become a powerful broker, and has lost his British accent. When Brianne shows up in his office, old wounds are ripped open, and new ones are inflicted.

Under Matt Okin's direction, the play moves briskly, but sometimes too briskly. That is, in order to provide fluidity, some of the transitions begin before one scene ends. At one point, for instance, Brianne and Carl are in a conversation, and she nonchalantly takes off her pants to prepare for a subsequent scene with Phil.

The actors do solid work, but combined with the barebones scenic design and simple lighting (both designed by Ilana Schimmel), the evening feels more like an acting-class scene study than a full production. This is a play that would benefit from a bit more glitz and cinematic sheen.

The play itself relies on familiar views of Hollywood as a haven for predatory men and easily victimized women. Bogosian's writing does not at least invigorate the formula. When Phil offers Brianne a drag on his joint during the play's first photo shoot, the roadmap highlighting the characters' paths to dissolution and their routes to moral disintegration comes fully into focus. We know where it's heading within the first few minutes of the play, and it feels like a long ride to get to the end. Regrettably, the play also lacks Bogosian's caustic wit and nuanced characterization.

1 + 1 has many of the ingredients of scintillating drama: sex, drugs, money, and Hollywood glamour. Unfortunately, in this production the elements don't add up.

1 + 1
Through March 19, 2023
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: