On paper, Diane Davis’ play Complicity offers a stark, yet refreshing take on the now familiar Harvey Weinstein-tainted Hollywood story of women being victimized by a male-run, male-driven industry. On stage what we have instead are sometimes too-clipped scenes where an audience is left the chore of filling in the many blanks. The actors sometimes attempt to do just that with histrionics that are unfortunately not reined in by director Illana Stein.
The show opens in 2006 in the lobby of the luxury 5-star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Two sisters, one an impressionable young actress, the other taking on the very important role of the other’s agent-manager, meet a somewhat more experienced female colleague in a brief kickoff meeting to discuss the very important meeting they are all about to have with the high-powered Harry Wickstone, a celebrated movie producer and studio head.
They are joined by another shady male studio executive for quick photo ops and encouragement. As the two other women find reasons to leave the young actress alone with the executive, the set-up is clear to all but the naïve actress. Shortly we are treated to video projections, akin to a blue movie, that hint at the devastation of the girl being sexually abused by the man who could make or break her career. The scene is summed up with the on-screen admonishment, “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
So, therein lies the premise for the play – when a naïve young actress is raped by her would-be producer, she faces a terrible choice – shine a klieg light on the episode and turn her back on a career in Hollywood, or bury her trauma under a very murky rug and continue on her path as if nothing has happened. In a choppy tableau we see her accepting an award for her performance, only to lift it as a weapon to attack the female co-star that left her alone with the producer. It comes out later that the actress had what amounted to a serious emotional outburst at the Golden Globes, where she proceeded to enlighten the audience to what she endured for her award-winning opportunity. Ultimately this temporarily cancels her own career. Twelve years later, the actress is being allowed a comeback at the gracious offer of the newly appointed female executive of a new movie studio – the same fellow actress who abandoned her in the rapist’s hotel room.
The actress moves into take-down mode. She pulls out of her charity contract from the new studio and proceeds to work on her own, documenting and exposing the seamy side of Hollywood by interviewing and filming women that have had the same career episodes as she. Probably the most explosive scene in the entire play is a late meeting for the female executive and the actress when the executive shows up unannounced at the actress’s home to offer her a deal to produce the documentary on the condition she returns to the studio to act in her offered comeback role. Suffice it to say, a certain revelation comes as little surprise to the audience.
The aforementioned revelation is handled deftly by Christian Paxton in the role of Lilia Gordon. Hers is not a very sympathetic role to play – a character who is entirely self-serving until that point. Her foil, the exquisite Katie Broad as Tig Kennedy, runs the gamut of young, giddy excitement of an actress at the beginning of her career to the hardened and demoralized victim with a mission to expose unsavory truths in a rather incendiary blaze.
As her sister Sima, Nadia Sepsenwol makes the most of an important supporting role, a dutiful agent who, while first and foremost supportive as a sister, is equally complicit in the horrific episode that her sister suffers. Her character-defining scene is done over a game of checkers with Tig’s boyfriend Cole Radnor – it is here that we learn of her own sacrifices to prop up her sister for success. Christian Prins Coen is nuanced as Cole, a protective boyfriend facing the defensive sister but reveals his more revelatory safeguarding of his own career at the expense of his relationship with Tig.
As Nigel Kent, the shady executive who leads Tig to that fateful “date” with the studio head he serves, Zach Wegner thankfully doesn’t resort to the usual expected moustache-twirling of cardboard villains. On the contrary, he provides depth in tandem with the necessary swagger, particularly in his scene putting Lilia in her place when he realizes that her hunger for power now excludes him.
In another interesting supportive role, Tonia E. Anderson plays a journalist/talk show host who sees audience numbers the way other people see dollar signs…think Tamron Hall, if Tamron were completely devoid of compassion for other human beings. Ben Faigus, as Tony the Engineer amongst other supporting production characters, manages to succeed in the unenviable task of making them different.
The set design by Cassandra Paras and Johnny Saczko is exceedingly resourceful in its quickness to change venues. Chris D’Angelo’s lighting design is supportive of the varied types of locales, particularly vivid in the award shows settings. The Projections design by Lana Boy is supportive to a point – haunting and disturbing in the very unnerving rape scene, yet failing when texts are sometimes flipped so fast they can’t be read. Janet Mervin’s costume designs for the show are a great achievement, from the high fashion of the award show scenes, to the poor “dressing up” for the character of Tig at the beginning of the play and her “dressing down” when she is not in the limelight. Jimmy Anthony’s sound design successfully enhances the fast-changing moods of the play.
While the impetus for the play, the Harvey Weinstein scandal, makes for great theater, the execution in Complicity leaves a lot to be questioned. There are too many instances where a little more exposition and a stronger directorial hand would have been a wiser choice, rather than putting the audience through the sensation of walking into a movie in the middle of a scene.
Complicity (through October 15, 2022)
Eden Theater Company
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.ci.ovationtix.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission