Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Death of the Author
Geffen Playhouse

Also see Sharon's review of Dorian's Descent

Austin Butler and David Clayton Rogers
Things aren't what they used to be in academia. Back in the day, if one turned in a less than optimal paper, the professor would give one a poor grade, and that was that. In modern times, however, if a student fails a class, his or her parents can sue the teacher or university for damages and win. The domain of higher education has become more treacherous in unexpected ways, and Steven Drukman's clever new play Death of the Author charts the territory with pointed wit. It's unfortunate, however, that the brilliance of the first hour sputters out in a weak and contrived finale.

Jeff (David Clayton Rogers) works as an adjunct English professor at a prestigious private college, and he's hoping to secure a better gig at the school as a visiting professor. His mentor, current chair of the English department J. Trumbull Sykes (Orson Bean), is grooming the younger man to be his successor. Jeff isn't expecting disaster when he meets with one of his students, Bradley (Austin Butler), about a plagiarized final paper, but Jeff's preconceptions, Bradley's stubbornness and the intervention of Bradley's sharp ex-girlfriend Sarah (Lyndon Smith) create a problem that will affect them all.

Rogers does a nice job as a teacher who is harshly made to recognize his flaws, segueing from thoughtful decency to righteous anger with seamless skill. Butler is quite good as the earnest Bradley, but can't get past the character's lack of credibility as written. Bean is delightful as Sykes, nailing the play's best lines and joyfully deflating academic pretension at every turn. Smith is fine as Sarah, but the role as written seems nothing like a college student and much like a plot device.

Director Bart DeLorenzo gets terrific work from his cast, but the "mirrored box" set by Takeshi Kata adds nothing appreciable to the production. There's a lot to admire about Drukman's play, and I enjoyed it a lot for two-thirds of its running time. The dialogue is funny and smart, the situation is interesting, and the surprises deliver. The conclusion, however, is so unbelievable that it taints everything that came before it. Drukman tries to have it both ways—here's the tragic ending, but wait, here's the happy ending—and the plot contortions that necessitates are a self-imposed death sentence for this Author.

Death of the Author plays at the Geffen Playhouse through June 29, 2014. For tickets and information, see

The Geffen Playhouse presents Death of the Author, written by Steven Drukman. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo. Set Design Takeshi Kata; Costume Design Christina Haatainen Jones; Lighting Design Lap Chi Chu; Composer & Sound Design John Ballinger; Stage Managers Cate Cundiff & Jessica Aguilar.

Jeff : David Clayton Rogers
Bradley : Austin Butler
J. Trumbull Sykes : Orson Bean
Sarah : Lyndon Smith

Photo: Michael Lamont

- Terry Morgan

- Terry Morgan