Five Reasons Why Good Night, Oscar is a Great Night of Theatre
By: Iris Wiener
April 29, 2023: Self-destructive pianist and humorist Oscar Levant has just booked an appearance on NBC’s Tonight show with Jack Paar. Temporarily released from the psychiatric hospital at the hand of his wife, who recently had him committed, Levant (Sean Hayes) wanders aimlessly around the green room at the late-night show jonesing for painkillers, narcotics, anything to settle his nerves and depression. Based on true events, the play is captivating for a number of reasons. Here are five of them:
1. Sean Hayes is giving a master class in acting. He is sublimely transformative as he disappears into the psychological warfare on display in his hurting mind. It is an unforgettable theatrical experience to witness Hayes’ combination of tics and nuances from Levant’s withdrawal, coupled with his neuroses and his musical capabilities. His eyebrows move as fast as the shutter on a camera, almost as speedy as his hands flying across the keys as he plays all ten minutes-plus of “Rhapsody in Blue” on the live telecast of Tonight. Though Oscarhas other redeemable attributes, Hayes’ stellar turn is history-making in and of itself.
2. Doug Wright’s one-act play begins slowly and meanders for a bit too long…until Levant enters the cramped green room. All is forgiven as Levant spits his lines, fighting with network execs about censorship. “A polite comedian is an oxymoron,” he says. “I’m controversial. People dislike me or they hate me.” Everyone has seen the story about how celebrities are often puppets and there is a lack of care for their feelings; however, this story is more sincere because it engages its audiences- it is fascinating to learn about Levant, a certifiable icon.
3. Rachel Hauck’s set is claustrophobic and versatile as it swaps a small green room with padded furniture for a luminous sound stage that is as gargantuan as the talent that inhabits it. In an intriguing twist, The Tonight Show’s set is also designed to mirror a padded cell.
4. Emily Bergl plays Levant’s complicated wife, June. Her demeanor is stern and lacks basic sociality and emotion, just as Wright’s interpretation of her demands. Bergl easily walks June’s fine line of manipulative nature and traumatized spouse.
5. Sean Hayes is so tremendous that he deserves to be mentioned twice. A tour de force, his performance is as genius as that of the person whom he is portraying.
Photography: Joan Marcus