So you know how ever since the age of six, you’ve been fascinated by the glitz, glamour and hairdos of the rich and famous? Remember sighing over the red carpets and shameless shopping sprees that are all part of the glittering lives of admired celebrities?
Or maybe not. In any case, you won’t find any of that stuff in “Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood,” playing tonight and tomorrow at the Yale Cabaret. Kicking off the Cabaret’s 40th anniversary season, the play instead focuses on the difficulties of the private, but by no means less superficial, lives of one celebrity couple and the heavy tolls that movie-stardom takes on their already strained marriage.
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Aptly named, “Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood” features two actors playing middle-aged celebrities preparing for the Academy Awards: Nicholas Carriere DRA ’08 as the arrogant and condescending Alexander Morton and Erica Sullivan DRA ’09 as the perpetually hysterical Samantha Braddick. The nature of their dysfunctional marriage can be summed up in four lines: “What if I trip?” former beauty queen Samantha asks, referring to her potential walk up the stage to accept the Oscar. “I’ll catch you,” replies Alex. “What if you trip?” Samantha asks again. “Then I’ll bring you down with me,” Alex half-jokingly replies.
Of the two characters, Samantha is often the most vivid, with Sullivan easily dominating the audience’s attention. Granted, this is mostly achieved through continuous breakdowns, apparently world-ending crises (Samantha’s makeup artist unexpectedly disappears, leaving her to “ugh … do it [herself]?!”) and irritatingly shrill-voiced arguments (she utters “Jesus!” probably more times than a televised evangelist does). But despite Samantha’s apparent shallowness and blind competition with her husband, she does occasionally display surprising glimpses of depth and opinion — she fiercely protests her husband’s attempts at turning her into a housewife. She cries out against Alex’s constant condescension, well symbolized by the attempt he makes at feeding her baby food before the ceremony.
Alexander’s character is puzzling at best and flat-out obnoxious at worst — well, at worst and most often. Strongly reminiscent of a former frat boy, he is remarkably fond of monologues that start to profess his undying love for Samantha but quickly devolve into self-glorying tales of times past. However, like his wife, Alex often voices unexpected opinions including his strong distaste for the world of Hollywood and his longing to go back to a simple life in Iowa.
Appropriate for the couple’s intensely intimate revelations and arguments, the bedroom provides the play’s only setting, although the characters’ monologues take the audience’s imagination to other places like beauty pageants and glamorous after-parties. Behind the bed, the black wall doubles as a screen for clips of Samantha’s and Alex’s films, and alternately as a “window” overlooking the skyline of Los Angeles. With the careful use of lighting around the bed, designer Jesse Belsky succeeds in replicating the feel of a Los Angeles afternoon and, later, an L.A. night. Set designer Scott Dougan’s Eastern-themed props — including a pot of bamboo, porcelain cups and bowls and a futon-resembling bed — portray the exotic taste of celebrities.
By the end of the night, Barret O’Brien DRA ’09 has destroyed the illusion of seemingly perfect celebrity life and — more unexpectedly — the illusion of celebrities as “normal” people. “Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood” reveals its pair of movie stars to be as shallow, deceitful and overdramatic in the confines of their own bedroom as they are on the big screen — and if making celebrities look bad isn’t a useful way to spend your night, nothing is.