January 16, 2009


by Lee Hartgrave - January 16, 2009

Pictured: Bing (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Mary Birdsong in 'Rich and Famous') Photo by: Kevin Berne.com


R & F tries and tries to be funny – but ‘funny’ seems to elude this play with music. This rewrite by John Guare is very similar to Mel Brook’s “The Producers.” It is hard to say what has gone wrong here – but I know one thing--there wasn’t much spark on that stage. The play is comprised of four segments, and most of them go on way too long to keep your interest.

Here is the story: A playwright (Bing Ringling) has written over 843 plays. None of them have ever been produced. Finally one of his plays is produced on Broadway. He hopes that this play (844) will be the one that will make him a Rich and Famous playwright – adored by all of Broadway. However -- his hopes are dashed, by the producer, (a woman), that wants it to be a flop. The play was on its way to flopping anyway with an inept cast. The playwright wants to replace one of the cast members with a friend of his that is a successful movie star.

The story weaves in and out of real time and fantasy. It’s hard to know what is really going on and what is just some nutty psycho-delic (made up word) stuff in the mind of the playwright. Technically Rich and Famous should have been a big hit because it has all the elements to be just that. The cast is really exceptional and the sets are to die for. The music is not all that original, but fits into the plot well. So, what is the problem? Well, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘heart’ in this play. Maybe the real playwright John Guare should visit The Wizard of Oz to get a real heart.

I’m sorry to say that the rewrite didn’t work. It’s just not funny. Sure, you might snicker a little now and then, but don’t plan on it being flat out hilarious. Cause, it ain’t! A.C.T may just be stuck with its biggest flop of the season. Something really interesting happened when the play was over. Usually it takes some time to get out of the Theater as people stand around blocking the aisles gushing with each other about the play. Not so this time. It was a breeze to walk down the aisle. The audience couldn’t get out fast enough. Even the older people with walkers, had them in high gear.

No, Bing will not become ‘Rich and Famous’ in this story. I too would like to be ‘Rich and Famous’ – and I want an intermission. But that didn’t happen. The play is almost two hours long. Now, even when you fly on an airplane – they warn you that you should not sit for over an hour without getting up and walking a bit. It’s dangerous – you could have a heart attack. Plus – older people have to go the bathroom more often. They can’t sit that long…even to be ‘Rich and Famous’!

THE FOUR MEMBER OS THE CAST ARE HUGELY TALENTED: Brooks Ashmanskas (Bing, the playwright). Mary Birdsong is just fantastic (she plays at least four different characters). Gregory Wallace also plays many characters, as does Stephen DeRosa.) Their timing was perfect and the acting magical. They did their best to keep the play afloat.


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Art Segment on PBS – KQED)))
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