“Claire from Hollywood” is also a semi-serious-minded drama about a woman stuck in a professional and personal holding pattern, and at times, a halfhearted farce, writes critic Dusty Somers.
Drawing inspiration from Noël Coward’s “Private Lives,” there’s a bit of acid-tongued drollery in the backstage comedy “… And Starring Claire from Hollywood,” a new work from local playwright Jim Moran.
But wait — there’s more.
“Claire from Hollywood” is also a semi-serious-minded drama about a woman stuck in a professional and personal holding pattern, and at times it’s a halfhearted farce, complete with drunken tomfoolery, clothes-shedding pratfalls and a weirdly incongruous masturbation gag at the act break.
‘... And Starring Claire from Hollywood’
by Jim Moran. Through June 3 at 18th and Union, 1406 18th Ave., Seattle; $18-$20 (machamonkey.org).
Macha Monkey’s production — directed by incoming artistic director Amy Poisson, who’s replacing company co-founder Kristina Sutherland Rowell — is generally diverting, thanks largely to its variety of likable performances. But there’s a reticence to the tonal shifts here, exacerbated by the script’s episodic structure, which skips over several ostensibly important moments for its protagonist.
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Claire Zimmer (Lisa Every) is the erstwhile star of a hit sci-fi TV show who has returned to her small coastal Oregon hometown to audition for a role in a community-theater production of “Private Lives.” (For those looking for the Coward original, Reboot Theatre Company is currently staging a production through May 20, with Elyot re-imagined as a trans man.)
Claire is all washed up. We know this because she talks extensively to herself, psyching herself up for her audition by quoting Variety reviews of a performance she gave more than a decade ago, and then bemoaning her decision to take a part in a big-budget movie flop. Expositional overload aside, Claire behaves like an actor who got close to success but came up short, not a former star fallen by the wayside. Every’s performance, laced with exposed seams of insecurity, makes the characterization work.
You wouldn’t know Claire was irrelevant by the reactions of her co-stars Brad (Sean Schroeder) and Jana (Emily Haver), and stage manager Kandi (Stacey Bush), each of them star-struck at the very sight of her. That’s especially true of Brad, whose childhood crush has materialized before his eyes, and whose eventual professions of love range from comically hollow to just plain TMI.
One cast member isn’t so impressed, and that’s Leo (Laurence Hughes), the big fish of this tiny pond and every small-stakes showbiz cliché rolled into one, from the apex of “Waiting for Guffman” on down. Leo takes all of this much too seriously, and Hughes appropriately vacuums up all the room’s attention with his preening performance. It’s hardly novel, but it’s fun enough.
The same could be said for much of “Claire from Hollywood,” even if it feels like there’s potential for greater dividends with a deeper exploration of Claire’s numerous dissatisfactions. Leo, a deeply mediocre man, has all the confidence in the world, while Claire, a woman who’s actually achieved something, has a shatteringly fragile self-conception.
That could be fodder for an examination of the vastly different expectations society puts on men and women, particularly in the entertainment industry.
Instead, there’s mostly just greenroom high jinks and crisscrossing romantic dilemmas that only faintly reverberate with the events of Coward’s play.