Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Submission: Groff is Buff

I have been traveling but I caught The Submission before I left town.  Now that it has opened, here is my take...

I should say up front I am relatively neutral on Jonathan Groff.  As an actor I only saw him in Spring Awakening and I hated that show with the fire of 1000 suns.  I could barely assess his performance because I was so enraged at the terrible material.  I watched the first season of Glee but it jumped the shark for me pretty early on and I think they shoot him in such a way that it makes his eyes look too close together.  And no one should be judged for their acting on that terrible terrible show.  They all should just hide in a cave and repent for their sins of being on Glee.

That said, I heard he was doing this new play The Submission and figured it was about time to see him as an actor.

Plot: A young white, gay male playwright, Danny, writes a play about a black family and successfully gets a staging of the play at the Humana festival using a black woman's name as the author.  He decides he need to perpetuate the ruse or else they will pull the plug on his show, so he hires an actress, Emilie, to play the role of the female black playwright.  Comedy does not ensue.

I'm going to say up front.  This is a poorly written play and the initial premise is so hard to accept that it's hard to stay on board for most of the show.  I could see a writer submitting it under another person's name and then revealing themself after the play was chosen but going so far as to hire an actress to play the author...and play this author who claims to be really attached to his play was just a hard pill to swallow.  It did not add up.

However, there were some really interesting questions in the material, that the actual playwright of The Submission did not explore fully.  I was intrigued by Emilie's struggle and plight.  It is a small part of the play but her emotional journey of being an actress finally being in a room where amazing creative artists are working and where she is getting to participate in creating something she believe in is really powerful when ultimately she realizes she's only there because of Danny's ruse.  Her emotional investment was really compelling and Rutina Wesley gave some serious gravitas to a role that I thought was largely underwritten.  

Everything else however was an unmitigated mess...the themes, messages, relationships of the characters.  I really wondered why did these actors signed on to this work.  I had moments where the show reminded me of Oleanna in the worst ways possible.  It was trying to explore interesting questions about race, racism, ownership of struggle and where we are today in America.  But this writer is not David Lindsay-Abaire.  Good People did all these things so well and with humor, care and love.  As much as the characters joke about the landmines of these conversations, I felt like I was watching the author of this play step on a number of those landmines.  Leaving aside the dangerous ground he was treading on, I think the greatest sin here is just writing a not very good play.  You cannot ask people to spend an hour and forty minutes with people who you as the author don't even seem to like very much. 

The show left me with many questions but not the ones I think the author intended.  I wanted to know why Danny was so ambitious to get his play produced any way he could but still so willing to hand it off to someone else to act as the writer.  I didn't think the role was written well enough to communicate why he made that choice.  The relationship between Danny and his boyfriend Pete is strange.  I could not get a handle on who they were as a couple, why they were together.  I think the playwright was trying to say something about them...but I haven't a clue what.  Danny's best friend, another playwright Trevor was, I think, supposed to be somewhat secretly in love with Danny.  Sadly the actor portraying him, Will Rogers, just didn't emote anything.  The entire play I wondered what was going on in that character's head.    Without richly drawn characters, trying to have those characters discuss race and racism becomes an exercise in futility. 

Groff did a fine job in his role in a poorly written play.  He has sparkly blond hair and is in a buff phase.  Definitely pecs and biceps bursting out of his T-shirt...if that's what you want to see. 

Rutina Wesley was great and I'd like to see her in something better.  

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