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The Script in the Closet

Jealousy rears its ugly head in this attempted farce about a writing couple who each think the other has taken on a new partner.

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Ruth Kavanagh as Lynn and Isaiah Stannard as Carlton in a scene from Joyce Griffen’s “The Script in the Closet” at The Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C. (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Playwright Joyce Griffen’s idea of farce in her new play The Script in the Closet is a series of 48, mostly very short scenes in which to keep the plot going she continually introduces new characters both onstage and offstage as well as new events. Some of the scenes are less than a minute. A good deal of the play happens over the telephone with characters we never meet. The plot is made more and more complicated by new contrivances that have less and less to do with the original premise. Farces usually trigger laughter and have much physical comedy, none of which is present here.

The premise is that actor Robert playing Sponge Bob Squarepants leaves a partial screenplay that he is auditioning for in the closet at a children’s birthday party. What he does not know is that he has been in the Fifth Avenue apartment of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning husband and wife writing team Lynn and Lionel Waters who have always resisted writing for film. When Zoey, the new nanny for their (offstage) younger son Jonathan who wants to be a writer, finds it without its cover page she decides to appropriate it and finish it, using Lynn and Lionel’s open laptop for her writing.

The cast of Joyce Griffen’s “The Script in the Closet” at The Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C. (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

When Lynn accidentally finds the file on the computer, she assumes Lionel has found a new writing partner which is tantamount to adultery. Then Lionel, finding the script on the laptop, gets the idea that Lynn has been writing with someone else but his son Carlton (returning from a breakup in California with the overly possessive and demanding Gladys) tells him that Lynn has found the screenplay and thinks that he is having an affair. He sets out for the Oak Room of the Plaza to have one. In the meantime, Carlton’s fiancée Gladys proceeds to follow him to New York from Los Angeles.

Just at this moment, Lynn’s sister Valerie and her husband Noah are visiting and begin giving bad advice to Lynn and Lionel separately while the romance has gone out of their own marriage. Other complications are that the maid Doris surreptitiously begins to add to the screenplay and Carlton and Zoey begin an affair which sours right away when she begins dating a high-powered editor interested in her unfinished novel. A not very funny visual gimmick is a Nanny Cam which Lynn has installed facing the laptop to catch Lionel’s non-existent new writing partner. Needless-to-say, the Nanny Cam hidden in a leather bound book is continually being moved by various people so that it never picks up any footage.

Kristin Johansen as Valerie, Tom Staggs as Noah and Ruth Kavanagh as Lynn in a scene from Joyce Griffen’s “The Script in the Closet” at The Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C. (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

As written and directed by Griffen, the actors are one-dimensional, endlessly repeating the same business in all of their scenes. Ruth Kavanagh’s Lynn is always nearly hysterical and overwrought, surprisingly insecure for someone with two Pulitzer Prizes in Drama. As husband Lionel, Mark De Rocco is perturbed and confused, as he might well be as he does not have a writing partner and he is not having an affair. Kristin Johansen’s Valerie, Lynn’s sister with a totally different accent, behaves like a socialite with too little on her mind. As her husband Noah, Tom Staggs is rather low-key, ending up rather negligible to the main plot.

Although Charlotte Jones’ Zoey is the catalyst to the action, she turns out to be rather mercenary when we find out her real motives for taking the job and dating the editor, her boss. Isaiah Stannard’s Carlton, Lynn and Lionel’s son, is rather a cypher as we never learn enough about him. While his girlfriend Gladys has a career in Los Angeles, we never find out what he does or what he might be studying. And Jada Delgado’s Gladys might be much more interesting if she were as possessive and controlling as she is described to be. As the actors hired for the birthday party, Patrick Huang and Tina Harper are offstage so much of the time that they seem to be in a different play, while Carrie Wilder as the housekeeper Doris is rather a cliché of the meddling servant who has been with the family a long time. Ironically, the play reads much more smoothly than it plays, though this type of comedy should move at a brisk speed without so much down time and not have 48 blackouts between scenes.

Charlotte Jones as Zoey and Carrie Wilder as Doris in a scene from Joyce Griffen’s “The Script in the Closet” at The Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C. (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

Set in 2013, it is incomprehensible that some of the scenes take place at the Oak Room of the Plaza which closed in 2011. And references to Le Cirque which closed in 2018 make the play seem dated. While Griffen’s living room setting is perfectly suitable to the storyline, the fact that the Waters, famous playwrights, have almost no books on their shelves but have been writing together for 35 years is difficult to believe. On the other hand, Griffen’s many costume changes add a great deal of color to the rather bland set. The uncredited props are problematic as the women’s Singapore Slings at the Oak Room usually pink but here look like martinis, and although the coffee shops the characters meet in appear to be Starbucks, they are not always carrying cups from the establishment. Alex Moore’s lighting design is sabotaged for the need for 48 blackouts between the scenes.

While The Script in the Closet is acted as though it is a comedy, almost none of the jokes land except for the few chuckles that Lionel’s remarks trigger in the play’s second half. As there is nothing so unfunny as a comedy with no laughs or a farce without physical business, The Script in the Closet is a disappointment that outstays its welcome. It only proves the adage that playwrights should not direct their own plays the first time around as another pair of eyes and ears are needed to get things right. The times are ripe for a hilarious comedy or farce right now but you will have to look somewhere else for that kind of first class entertainment.

The Script in the Closet (through March 17, 2024)

The Downstairs Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C., 66 East Fourth Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-430-5374 or visit http://www.lamama.org

Running time: two hours and ten minutes including one intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (972 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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