Review: ‘And The Winner Is’
On a wing and a prayer, Purple Rose closes winning year
If the bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,’ has fallen off your radar screen, you might want to reconsider making it a part of your nightly routine.
At least that’s the all-too simple lesson Oscar nominee Tyler Johnes learns initially in “And The Winner Is,” the second in what seems to be a series of spiritual-themed comedies by Mitch Albom that premiered last Friday night at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre.
What Tyler REALLY comes to understand Ð with some heavenly intervention, of course Ð is far deeper than that. It just takes him Ð and the audience Ð a while to get there.
The 46-year-old actor awakens one morning to find himself in what appears to be a booze-free bar run by an Irishman named Seamus. Understandably confused Ð and dressed in nothing more than a long-sleeved shirt, boxers and one sock Ð Tyler finally realizes that he’s died and gone on to his final reward.
Well, sort of.
In actuality, he’s ended up a dead guy stuck in God’s ‘weigh station’ Ð the place where recently-departed souls wait (and wait and wait) until there’s a lull in the traffic going directly to heaven. And he got there, Seamus tells him, because the actor neglected to recite the famous prayer the night before and ask, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
As you might expect, it’s a rude awakening for the self-absorbed actor who planned on attending the Oscar ceremony that night.
Once featured in a series of dead-end movies called “Chippencops” Ð police officers who work undercover as strippers Ð Tyler received a nomination as best supporting actor for an independent art film. It’s vindication for an aging actor in an industry that worships youth, Tyler feels, so he begs Seamus to arrange just one more night in Hollywood so he can attend the Academy Awards.
But Tyler isn’t the only one who wants to go. So, too, do his agent Teddy, his much reviled co-star (and co-nominee) Kyle Morgan and his beautiful (but not too bright) girlfriend, Serenity who also arrive at the weigh station after eating a bad batch of shellfish. Tyler’s supportive wife, Sheri, appears in flashbacks.
Together, the picture they paint of Tyler’s hedonistic life is not a pretty one. So the likelihood that their wish will be granted seems slim at best. However, there’s still a chance for Tyler to redeem himself, so Seamus and the group make one last trip to earth.
And what a revealing trip it is!
In an age where discussions about morals and values are nothing more than political talking points Ð and the public expression of one’s spiritual beliefs are often scorned Ð it’s refreshing to find a playwright who explores modern-day life without disrespecting the core beliefs that many Americans share. It’s an approach that would get Albom booed off Broadway, of course, but it’s one that strikes a chord with Mr. and Mrs. Average American Theatergoer.
What’s missing from Albom’s latest work, however, is empathy for its characters.
In his first act, Albom tells the story of a shallow, self-absorbed and not very pleasant actor and his equally phony Hollywood cohorts. With only a few exceptions, there’s not a character in the bunch most of us can identify with, or Ð more importantly Ð care about. So while we laugh at their antics Ð and we do, as Albom has infused the script with many witty lines Ð we invest no emotions in them. At least not positive ones!
What that means, then, is that Tyler’s redemption in act two loses its punch. Why should we care about what happens to Tyler in the second act if we really didn’t like him in the first?
(I’m also still having headaches trying to sort out what “really happened” and what didn’t, thanks to a line Seamus delivers towards the end of the show regarding the appearance of Teddy, Kyle and Serenity at the weigh station. Either I need to throw logic out the window or Albom needs to clarify things a little!)
Uniformly excellent performances are given by the show’s superb cast Ð especially 2005 Wilde Award nominees Paul Hopper (Seamus), Sarab Kamoo (Sheri) and Grant R. Krause (Tyler). Guy Sanville’s direction is inventive and fast-paced, and as always, all technical elements of the production are top notch.
“And The Winner Is” Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, Chelsea. Wed.-Sun. through Aug. 27. $17.50-32.50. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: With just a few tweaks to the script, this entertaining and thought-inducing production can easily become the five-star winner is sets out to be!
Follow-up: Fire reduces Plowshares’ warehouse to rubble
Disaster brings out the best in theater community
As reported last week in BTL’s news section, a savage fire in a Detroit warehouse destroyed nearly 15 years worth of costumes, set pieces and props that belonged to Plowshares Theatre Company.
Out of that tragedy, however, comes good news.
In a phone conversation last week followed by a lunch with BTL co-publisher Susan Horowitz and myself, Plowshares’ Producing Artistic Director Gary Anderson expressed delight in the response his company has received from theater companies not only locally, but nationally. The sincere offers of support Ð both financial and otherwise Ð have deeply touched Anderson, especially those that came from unexpected places.
This outpouring of love and generosity prompted Anderson to ask me to do two things: To make everyone aware of how quickly and thoughtfully the theater community responded to Plowshares’ plight, and to express his gratitude for their assistance.
Although the fire wiped out much of the theater’s inventory, it didn’t dampen its spirit. “Crowns,” its summer production, will go on as scheduled. (It opens July 21 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.)
And the next time Anderson needs an early twentieth century piano for an upcoming production, he’ll have about a dozen from which to choose. That’s how many he’s been offered since the media reported the loss of a circa-1923 upright piano that was used in several productions.
To make a donation to Plowshares Theatre Company or for information about its upcoming production, call 313-872-0279 or log on to http://www.plowshares.org.