According to Carlyn Aquiline, Literary Manager and Dramaturg at City Theatre, "when playwrights Eric Simonson and Jeffrey Hatcher devised an inspired premise - a Kaufmanesque comedy with George S. Kaufman caught in something like the plot of his own play - how could we not commission and produce that?" Well, they might have waited to see if it was funny. And really Kaufmanesque. Louder Faster is neither.
This 75 minute (plus inexplicable 15 minute intermission) play is set in 1937 and revolves around someone named George S. Kaufman (Brian Sgambati). This George S. Kaufman is a handsome, wise-cracking playwright. Like the real Kaufman, he is known as the Great Collaborator, and Harpo Marx has bet him that he can't write a play without a collaborator. He has accepted the bet, and arranged to hole up in a rented house in his hometown of Pittsburgh for a weekend to bang out said play. His manager, Max Weitzenhoffer (Martin Giles), appears first, on the phone (repeating everything the caller says, in case we can't figure it out) making arrangements for the weekend, including procuring a prostitute to show up at the house and, for some reason under the premise of just being a poor lost girl, help Kaufman "relieve stress" before he begins the challenging of writing a new play. Arrangements are also made for a secretary; when Betty Schubert (Marina Squerciati) arrives, she is mistaken for the prostitute. When Veronica Undt the prostitute (Robyne Parrish) arrives, she's mistaken for the secretary. Other goings on in the house involve a communist named Jerzy Chimulski (Jeffrey Carpenter), who may or may not be planning a bombing, and FBI agent Vic Zimmer (Patrick Jordan). They go in and out of doors leading to the basement and a closet with a false wall/backdoor. Honestly, it's not a bad premise for a farce. Mistaken identities, the possibility of danger, and doors.
But it all goes nowhere. Director Tracy Brigden has the actors simply playing it broad, really broad, with greatly exaggerated gestures. Most of the comic lines are forced or out of place for the characters (the secretary/mistaken prostitute returns from the grocery store with a bag of sausages and pickles and Kaufman remarks, "Thematic"). An additional character, that of Kaufman's nephew Morris Kaufman (Tony Bingham), appears to be either really stupid or very young (he looks to be the same age as his uncle, though he's is referenced as 29, with George Kaufman at 47). Tony Bingham knows how to play funny; he's not funny here, just goofy and juvenile. The character of Betty is the best developed, with some real farcical comedy lines and physical bits, and Squerciati shows a flair for both. It would be great to see the character in another play. Parrish is terrific as the stress-reliever, but the character is wasted. Jeffrey Carpenter has a refreshing comic turn toward the end which reminds us of what he can do, but his sub-plot doesn't pan out well. Sgambati displays a great theatrical voice and acting talent, but he's miscast as George Kaufman.
The Pittsburgh references throughout the scriptfrom pierogies to chip chopget chuckles for familiarity (where else can "Mt. Lebanon" get a laugh; "Steubenville" doesn't) as do the naughty words. Those are cheap laugh opportunities, and obviously the local references won't work at all outside of Pittsburgh.
Tony Ferrieri's set and Michael Krass' costumes are highlights, and deserving of a better vehicle.
Simonson (Speak American) and Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty) are accomplished playwrights, but they aren't great collaborators here.
Louder Faster is the last play of the City's 2010-2011 season, but their momentum series of plays in development will be presented June 2-5. And it looks like next season holds a few gems for local audiences. For more information, visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.