The Playwright and His Double
By Isa Goldberg / Chief Theater Critic
Playwright Jeff Talbott makes his debut with “The Submission,” a play which just happens to be about a playwright’s breakthrough work. It’s an intriguing premise: Written under the pseudonym Shaleeha G’natamobi, Danny’s (Jonathan Groff’s) new play is about a black family that is trying to find a way of the projects.
As Danny sees it, “the system is set up to heap awards and opportunity on every second-class piece of writing because the author has one name, or a dash or apostrophe in his last name.” While Affirmative Action has Danny over a barrel, the clever young gay writer invents a coup de theatre that will be his trump maneuver. He asks his young black friend, an actress Emilie, to pretend to be him – meet with the director, oversee the rehearsals, and carry on as though she had written it, while he sets the stage for his dramatic disclosure.
Talbott demonstrates an ear for comic, natural dialogue that carries the first part of the show. But he fails to develop the material, leaving us with a story about political correctness and what people are allowed to say or not say. In what becomes a shallow, unsatisfying affair, Danny complains to Emilie, “because you don’t have to take any, you know, ownership of your words, because you can always fall back on ‘It was worse for my mom, it was worse for my great uncle, it was worse for everybody else, so, by extension, it’s bad for me.’” What an ironic observation from the entitled man who really didn’t take responsibility for his words, and who turns out to be an altogether rejecting and irresponsible character!
As directed by Walter Bobbie (“Chicago,” “Venus in Fur”), Danny escapes indictment. He never really owns up to his hubris, his self-denial, or his implicit racism, leaving us with a rather pointless and inconclusive story.
As Danny, Groff of “Glee” fame, looks bigger and more buffed than he did in his earlier Broadway roles (”American Idiot” and “Spring Awakening.”) That his portrayal is less than convincing is more a reflection on the material than it is on the acting. His character simply has nowhere to go, and uses too many well-worn expletives to get there. Will Rogers delivers a quirky albeit earnest portrayal of the friend in whom Danny places his trust. And Rutina Wesley (television’s “True Blood”) gives an invigorating and seductive performance as Emilie, the young, talented, up-and-coming actress turned playwright.
Moving panels turn David Zinn’s design of Starbucks (New York and Louisville) into hotel rooms, Manhattan apartments, or whatever venue is needed. Like the dialogue and the characters, the setting is energetic and contemporary. Still, it is sad that Danny’s self serving ordeal leaves him without the ability to reflect on himself or his actions in a more meaningful way.
“The Submission” is at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street through October 22nd. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For tickets, call OvationTix: (212) 352-3101, go to www.mcctheater.org, or visit the box office.
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