'Verité': Theater Review

Verite Production Still - H 2015
Erin Baiano

Verite Production Still - H 2015

This witty satirical comedy doesn't quite make it to the finish line

Anna Camp stars in this comedy from 'Orange is the New Black' writer Nick Jones, about a struggling writer looking to drum up memoir fodder.

Memoirs have become the literary form du jour these days, with hapless readers often chagrined to discover that their veracity leaves something to be desired. So when aspiring writer and stay-at-home mother Jo (Anna Camp) is approached by a publishing house interested in purchasing hers for the princely sum of $50,000 she's naturally suspicious, especially since her only credit is an unpublished fantasy novel she's been working on since high school. That's the delicious premise of Nick Jones' new play Verité, now receiving its world premiere courtesy of Lincoln Center's LCT3 initiative dedicated to new works.

The playwright — a writer and co-producer on Netflix's Orange is the New Black, whose previous acclaimed comedy, The Coward, was also presented by LCT3  — is clearly on to something here. This dark fantastical comedy wittily explores the lengths to which writers are willing to go to achieve success.

Summoned to the publishing house's midtown Manhattan office, Jo meets the strange duo of Andreas (Matt McGrath) and Sven (Robert Sella), both sporting thick Scandinavian accents. Explaining that they're a "reality-based company" that doesn't "have a website that's on the ordinary internet," they offer her the sizeable advance even though, as she explains, she hasn't done anything with her life that's particularly interesting.

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"What if we made your life interesting?" they suggest.

Jo's blue-collar husband Josh (Danny Wolohan) urges her to accept the offer, advising her not to "look a Trojan horse in the mouth." And since their financial situation is precarious — the family, including precocious eight-year-old son Lincoln (Oliver Hollmann), is living in a cramped attic apartment in the home of Josh's sister Liz (Jeanine Serralles) — she reluctantly agrees.

When Josh suggests that the family spend a weekend vacation together in Myrtle Beach, Jo demurs, remembering the publishers' dictum that she can write about whatever she wants as long as she makes "interesting choices." So she stays home instead and embarks on an affair with Winston (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a man claiming to be an old high school friend who says he's always had a crush on her.

Since she doesn't actually remember him, she assumes that Winston has been sent by Andreas and Sven to spice up her story. So, "desperate to move the plot along," she eagerly takes him up on his offer to accompany him on a business trip to Bogota, Colombia, assuming that the results will make for exotic storytelling. She's soon disappointed to discover that Winston may actually be who he says he is…or maybe not.

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The play stumbles as it goes along, essentially spinning its wheels while trying to sustain its imaginative concept. Becoming repetitive in its themes and ideas, it does at least offer many amusing moments along the way, such as when young Lincoln laments that he's "not commercial" when his mother refuses to include him in her adventures.

Camp, a theater veteran best known for her turns in the films Pitch Perfect and The Help, as well as the HBO series True Blood, manages the difficult feat of making her self-absorbed writer appealing. She's ably supported by the terrific ensemble, particularly McGrath and Sella, hilarious as the comically creepy, mysterious publishers. Set designer Andrew Boyce, working with limited means, cleverly suggests a variety of locations with the versatile use of blinds.

The play, briskly and efficiently staged by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, doesn't fully succeed in realizing its satirical ambitions. But it offers plenty of fun food for thought along the way.

Cast: Anna Camp, Oliver Hollman, Danny Wolohan, Matt McGrath, Robert Sella, Jeanine Serralles, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Director: Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Playwright: Nick Jones
Set designer: Andrew Boyce
Costume designer: Paloma Young
Lighting designer: Matthew Richards
Sound designer: Stowe Nelson
Music: Ryan Rumery

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater