The irony is palpable during John Morogiello’s Blame It on Beckett, a sharp satire of
dramturgs and regional theaters and the post-modern urge to avoid plot. As Jim
and Heidi battle over Jim’s job as dramaturg and literary manager at a New
England regional theater, one wonders why Morogiello’s play seems to be lacking
in traditional dramaturgy itself. Surely someone with an eye on the development
of his script would have told him that the sudden swerve from wryly sardonic to
the dramatic in the second act wasn’t a smooth transition, and that the audio
clips heard between scenes were heavy-handed in their attempts at comedy.
No one seems to have mentioned it—certainly not director
Jackob G. Hofmann—which leaves Blame It
on Beckett somewhere in limbo, between a sweetly acidic comedy and dark
drama about the perils of ambition. Morogiello proves he has the chops for
either, but by settling for both, his play ultimately feels flimsier than it
Certainly the cast isn’t to blame. As Jim, Warren Kelly is a
gesticulative, dry delight as he teaches box office employee and literary
manager intern Heidi (Lori Gardner) the ropes. For Jim, the ropes mostly mean
an embittered attitude towards the state of contemporary theater companies,
ones that rely on classic comedies, movie stars and family-friendly holiday
offerings to get audience subscriptions renewed. Heidi, idealistic college
graduate that she is, sees things differently. She wants the theater to find
the next Big Thing, and is willing to wade into the mire of submitted scripts
until she finds it. While she reads and Jim scoffs, famous playwright Tina Fike
(Anne Newhall) argues about her latest feminist manifesto and the theater’s
director, Jim Braschi (Mark Doherty, appropriately sexy and sleazy) schemes to
escape the confines of New England for the bright lights of the Big Apple.
The first act is a pleasant diversion of theater jokes and,
for those in the audience familiar with The Abingdon Theatre’s mission
statement of only producing new works by American playwrights, something of a
meta commentary. As Jim sweeps stacks of rubbishy scripts into a trashcan, only
for Heidi to rescue them for reading, one can’t help but reminisce over the
similar sounding shows that the Abingdon has produced. But what begins as an
insidery take on contemporary theater turns much darker after intermission, as
Jim’s plots take root and Heidi and Jim find themselves at serious odds.
There’s much to laud in Morogiello’s script—his quips about
the theater are dead-on, as anyone who attends with any regularity can
attest—but his story would have benefitted from swiftness, instead of the
meandering, if funny, conversations he has written for his characters. And the
final 20 minutes are as unflinching an exploration of a willingness to
sacrifice one’s soul for success as any put on stage. Somehow, the two strands
never adhere, leaving audiences experiencing two very different plays. That’s
one thing that can’t be blamed on Samuel Beckett.
Blame It on Beckett
Through Oct. 30, Abingdon Theatre, 312 W. 36th St. (betw.
8th & 9th Aves.), www.abingdontheatre.com; $25.