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Mark Roberts’ extensive television credits include serving as executive producer and head writer for seven seasons of Two and a Half Men and as executive consultant on three seasons of The Big Bang Theory; he also created Mike and Molly, on which he served as executive producer for the first 70 episodes. So it’s no surprise that he knows something about the ins and outs of network sitcoms. What is surprising is that he’s so willing to bite the hand that feeds him with Enter at Forest Lawn, his new play receiving its world premiere by New York’s Amoralists Theatre Company. This viciously dark and profane comedy would seem to indicate that Roberts’ television experiences were not without rancor.
Being presented by this daringly adventurous troupe as part of The Gyre, a two-play repertory “exploring man’s vicious cycles” that also includes Derek Ahonen’s The Qualification of Douglas Evans, the 70-minute one-act depicts the work travails of Jack Story (playwright Roberts), the producer of “the number one scripted show on network television, about to sell into syndication for two million per episode.” Threatening the deal is the drugs and hooker-infused, criminally debauched lifestyle of his lead actor, who plays the beloved main character.
Constantly ranting into his telephone headset and verbally abusing his hapless publicist, Stanley (David Lanson), and socially maladroit, insecure assistant, Jessica (Sarah Lemp), Jack — who looks more like an aging biker than a mega-successful television producer — pulls no prisoners. Proclaiming that “I am trying to bring laughter to the f—ing world,” he’s even quick to dismiss Jessica’s claims that she was sexually abused in a particularly humiliating fashion by the show’s wayward star.
Jack’s kindred spirit is the sexy Marla (Anna Stromberg), a rapacious agent who bursts into his office and asks him to get a writing job for her nephew Clinton (Matthew Pilieci), a young war veteran whose blown-off hand has been replaced by a metal hook. Jack is initially resistant, but she seals the deal in her usual fashion with a torrid sexual encounter in his office.
Things turn even darker with the arrival of the strangely off-kilter wannabe writer, who treats his presumed benefactor with barely disguised contempt. Their tense encounter ultimately turns violent in the play’s hellish concluding moments.
Although the evening reeks with a certain authenticity, it eventually proves repetitive and wearisome. The stereotypical caricatures, exaggerated situations and broadly profane dialogue seem less like behind-the-scenes ax-grinding than a determined effort to be outrageously shocking. The playwright certainly has extensive life experience from which to draw — any resemblance between the unseen bad-boy actor and Charlie Sheen is clearly not coincidental — but his relentlessly broad strokes prove more alienating than entertaining.
Jay Stull, who also directed Roberts’ previous effort for the company, Rantoul and Die, has delivered a raucously fast-paced staging, and the performers, particularly playwright Roberts, deliver ferociously energetic turns. But their efforts are not enough to lift Enter at Forest Lawn above the level of a misconceived sketch.
Cast: Mark Roberts, David Lanson, Sarah Lemp, Anna Stromberg, Matthew Pilieci
Director: Jay Stull
Playwright: Mark Roberts
Set designer: David Harwell
Lighting designer: Brad Peterson
Costume designer: Lux Haac
Sound designer: Jeanne Travis
Presented by the Amoralists
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