In his pre-curtain speech, George Street Playhouse’s David Saint announced that the theater at which he has been artistic director for the past 16 years is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. Even more proudly he shared with us the news that LORT (the League of Resident Theaters) released figures citing that the GSP had a 90 percent subscriber renewal rate that put the theater among the highest in the country. Looking around at the composition of the audience in the house, it was possible to speculate that a good majority were, indeed, celebrating 40 years as subscribers.
Figures are important, which is why I want to be respectful to Paul Dooley and Winnie Holzman. They are not only the performers and co-authors of “One of Your Biggest Fans” (previously titled “Assisted Living” in its world premier last August at Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theater) but are also celebrating 25 years of being married. A program note states that the inspiration for their play began when they were first married and continued to serve them as a work-in-progress until one day “they had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and finished the play.” They did, but they haven’t really.
But before we go into the plot which is ideally suited for those who have nowhere to go and nothing to do, it is worth noting that the play has, indeed, somewhere to go. The trouble is that you won’t realize it until it is more than half over. This leads you to believe that this is still a work-in-progress despite its 25-year gestation period.
There is talent afoot with stage, screen, and TV character actor Dooley (affectionately known as “America’s Dad”) sharing the stage with Holzman, the Tony-nominated writer of the book for the hugely successful musical “Wicked” and the Emmy-nominated creator of the television drama “My So-Called Life.”
Holzman is not an especially good actor. She’s therefore to be commended for sheer chutzpah for writing two roles for herself that would challenge even a very resourceful actor. Stammering hesitantly through dialogue that is mainly composed of exposition and purposeless information about offstage characters, she seems ill-at-ease and considering how comforting it should be working with your husband.
One wonders what director Larry Biederman thought was actually working. From my vantage point, I could see no directorial assertion — only two actors winging it as they went along.
Holzman plays Emily, a former makeup artist on a television daytime soap opera whose life as the doting, live-in girl friend to an old actor, Frank, is not paying off, and with no prospect of marriage. She spends a good part of the day berating him for not appreciating her and for not answering his growing stack of fan mail. Her main task is feeding him his lines from the inane soap’s script that he has to memorize before he returns to the studio.
Although performed in one 90-minute act, the play is divided into three sections that allow Holzman in the second section to become Heather, the close-to-obese (she gets plenty of padding), emotionally challenged fan whose pathetic and needy letter to Frank serves as the catalyst for rest of the plot. This section takes place in an assisted living facility where Heather the fan is making one of her infrequent visits to her elderly “Dad.” Unlovable as she is in appearance, she attempts to neutralize some of the resentment she harbors as an unloved caregiver.
The final scene is in a Manhattan apartment (nicely designed by James Youmans with bland neutrality, as is the room in the assisted living facility). Heather, having gone through something close to a metamorphosis, as well as reconciliation, pays a revelatory visit to a stunned and clueless Frank years after Emily has departed.
Dooley expertly resides in the egocentricities that characterize his two roles: the despondent old actor and the exasperating Dad. Notwithstanding Holzman’s ability to poke fun at daytime soaps and their convoluted plots, her wit goes wanting for too much of the play.
The program gives McCorkle Casting credit. But didn’t Dooley and Holzman write it for themselves? Now that’s funny. Despite a disastrous casting decision, there is a spark of something tender and deeply touching in this play with a commendable theme: That we may never know how a simple act of kindness can change someone’s life.
One of Your Biggest Fans, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., and Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m., through Saturday, February 23. $28 to $67. www.georgestreetplayhouse.org or 732-246-7717.