Both cynics and fans obsessed with celebrity and all things Hollywood will revel in “Clark Gable Slept Here,” now playing at the Phoenix Theatre and seen by yeahstub.com Saturday. Michael McKeever is the playwright of this satire on Hollywood which explores the darker, seamy side of the entertainment world in which secrets reside behind closed doors.
It’s also a commentary on well-crafted public images that disguise the faults, foibles and sometimes taboo predilections of the rich and famous determined to safeguard their multi-million dollar brands, all while maintaining the illusion of perfection.
Since our celebrity-obsessed culture requires constant feeding, TV shows such as “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” and the “E!” network; magazines such as People and Us Weekly; and tabloids like the National Enquirer are all more than happy to accommodate the public’s desire for news about Hollywood and its stars.
And for these purveyors of gossip there is nothing like a lurid Tinsletown scandal to drive advertising and sell publications. Of course now added to the entertainment media’s phalanx of enterprising reporters looking for dirt is a massive army of tipsters armed with smartphones—ready to pounce on the misdeeds of the famous so they can post their indiscretions on Facebook and Twitter or pass them on to TMZ. Oh, and of course, don’t forget security cameras that seem to be everywhere these days—even in elevators (think Jay Z and Solange).
In other words, it is getting harder and harder for celebrities to avoid the harsh glare of the spotlight if they’re caught in indiscretions, which can result in severe economic repercussions for stars and the films they represent. To avoid such pitfalls, it usually falls to celebrity handlers, as it always has, to make sure that they are protected.
In “Clark Gable Slept Here” the task falls to the manager of a major film star. He finds himself doing major damage control on behalf of his married (to a woman) actor client when a dead male prostitute shows up on the floor of the star’s suite at the Chateau Marmont. It just so happens that it’s the night of the Golden Globe Awards which said actor is attending and where he hopes to win in the category for which he has been nominated.
Directed by Bryan Fonseca, this funny, dark comedy, replete with unexpected twists and turns revolving around a character regarded as a mediocre actor, is superbly conveyed by a cast of performers who are anything but. They include Joshua Coomer as Gage Holland the put upon hotel manager; Maria Diaz as Estella, the duplicitous maid; Charle Goad as Jarrod “Hilly” Hillard as the star’s cold and unsympathetic manager; Jen Johansen as Morgan Wright, the star’s tough as nails crisis controller; and Tyler Ostrander, as the hapless male hustler, Travis.
Though each member of the cast showed comic expertise and demonstrated superb timing, two performances really stood out.
Johansen, who played Masha, the narcissist movie star in last season’s “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike” as well as Daria Chase, the bitchy, unscrupulous theater critic, in IRT’s “The Games Afoot,” once again excels as a larger than life presence here as Morgan Wright, the hardboiled “fixer” whose job is to cover up the boss’ messes.
The other was that of Maria Diaz, a Spanish speaking bi-lingual actor who gives a bravura performance as Estella, the shrewd maid with an agenda. Exceedingly talented in physical comedy, in the tradition of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, Diaz was a scene stealer as her character mimed the walk of a dwarf and during an attempt to dispose of the male prostitute’s dead body.
Jim Ream’s beautifully designed and appointed set, representing the actor’s luxurious Chateau Marmont’s suite, is without a doubt one of the finest ever seen on the Phoenix’s Livia and Steve Russell stage.
“Clark Gable Slept Here” — which opens the Phoenix Theatre’s 2014-2015 season (its 32st) — continues through Oct. 19. For tickets and information call (317) 635-2381 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.
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