NEW YORK (AP) — That old saying about the meek inheriting the Earth doesn't remotely apply to the cutthroat world of Hollywood filmmaking, where an obsession with youth, beauty and shock value may generally top most artistic concerns. Yet sometimes the meek can triumph in surprising ways.
Writer and director Neil LaBute has applied his customary cynicism and bitter-tipped rapier to Hollywood by suggesting a rather drastic way to keep a flagging movie career alive, in his wickedly funny new comedy, "The Money Shot," which opened Monday night off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
LaBute's numerous works, which cast a jaundiced eye at relationships in general, have included plays like "Fat Pig," ''Reasons to Be Happy" and films such as "In The Company of Men," ''Your Friends and Neighbors" and "Nurse Betty."
Terence Kinney, who directed LaBute's "reasons to be pretty" on Broadway, lets the awkward tension build onstage amid his accomplished cast. Two no-longer-young yet still-condescending film actors (Frederick Weller as Steve and Elizabeth Reaser as Karen), bring their significant others to a casual dinner to discuss the "boundaries" on the proposed daring sex scene that the fading stars hope will revitalize their careers.
Weller, recently seen on Broadway opposite Tyne Daly in "Mothers and Sons," has shown expertise in portraying LaBute's angry male characters, as he did in "Reasons to be Happy." In the case of Steve, Weller conveys a smug machismo and pompous ignorance that are quite funny. Reaser ("Twilight" films and "Grey's Anatomy") allows Karen to be elegantly vain and insecure, languidly plying her character's vapid narcissism as a graceful foil to Weller's vulgarity.
Callie Thorne (Golden Globe nominee for "Necessary Roughness") is quietly impactful as Karen's feisty partner, Bev, who finds Steve's confident stupidity increasingly infuriating. Steve's young wife, Missy, an aspiring actress, is charmingly performed by Gia Crovatin as a perky blonde airhead whose wifely subservience is eventually revealed to have a not-so-dumb-after-all aspect.
There's a lot of cursing, as expected, and some graphic discussions about the sex act and positions that will be permissible if the two stars actually film the big scene. When an outburst by one of the beleaguered spouses takes an unexpectedly physical turn, the play may have jumped the shark in terms of dinner-party outcomes, but it's always fun to see big egos get punctured.