EmptyTheatre at St. Clement's, New York
Through March 11
Emmy Award-winner Daniel J. Travanti ("Hill Street Blues") is making his New York stage debut in a new play called "The Last Word ...," and fans may wonder what took him so long.
Those New Yorkers who were addicted to Steven Bochco's 1980s TV series will remember Travanti as the fictional police precinct's chilly captain, Frank Furillo. But in this seriocomic drama by Oren Safdie ("Private Jokes, Public Places"), Travanti transforms into an elderly, passionate dramatist, a Viennese refugee who rails against a contemporary theater that has no use for him.
Travanti delivers a vivid portrait of an aging and angry writer. The play is a weak vehicle for his considerable talent.
"The Last Word ..." takes place in a scruffy office above an off-Broadway theater. Here, gray-haired, bearded Henry Grunwald (Travanti), a Jewish refugee who became an advertising executive, interviews a young playwright named Len Artz (Adam Green) who has answered an ad to be Henry's assistant. Soon Henry, who says he is legally blind, has cajoled Len into opening his mail, making phone calls and sitting at an ancient computer to put rewrites into Henry's dreadful multi-act scripts. And eventually, as is frequently the way with plays involving a demanding old man and a young one who could benefit from mentoring (see "Visiting Mr. Green" or "Old Wicked Songs"), the pair argue, confide private experiences and wind up friends.
Under Alex Lippard's intelligent direction, Travanti and Green elicit every ounce of humor and pathos this contrived 80-minute one-act provides -- and many good moments the two actors have probably created by working so well together. Travanti's Henry, stoop-shouldered but lively, is both sympathetic and amusingly obnoxious. Green, in a strong, honest performance, fashions a unique human being out of a theatrical cliche (when Henry asks Len to name his favorite contemporary playwright, you know the guy is going to say "Mamet").
But neither performer can disguise the play's flimsiness, or its frequently boring dialogue about the difficulties of getting a play produced. One welcomes Daniel Travanti to the New York stage and hopes he decides to stay. But next time perhaps he will find a play more deserving of his skills.
THE LAST WORD ...
Presented by Les Gutman and Elizabeth Cockrell in association with Friendly Fire and Lynn Shaw Prods.
Playwright: Oren Safdie
Director: Alex Lippard
Scenic designer: Michael V. Moore
Lighting designer: Lucas Benjaminh Krech
Costume designer: Kirche Leigh Zeile
Sound designer: Gabe Wood
Henry Grunwald: Daniel J. Travanti
Len Artz: Adam Green