Successful literary agent Bruston Fischer (Bryan Batt) and uber-popular novelist Cyrus Holt (Ron Canada) met in 1978. The former was a copy editor roughed up in bars when recognized as gay, the latter an unpublished author, ignored because he was African American. We watch them initially connect, Miles G. Jackson as young Bruston and Garrett Turner as young Cyrus. Deep friendship ensues. Bruston narrates their history steeping in and out of action, going back and forth in time.
Garrett Turner as young Cyrus; Miles G. Jackson as young Bruston
For 45 years, Brustan has not only stewarded Cyrus’ career, but watched his friend lie, drink, take drugs, be unfaithful to now ex-wife Lana (Marcia Cross), and an all but absentee father to Gigi (Danielle J. Summons) and Leo (Garrett Turner). Light sarcasm concerning the author’s current, much younger, fiancé is as far as criticism goes.
Having always been the first to read Cyrus’ work, Bruston is puzzled and hurt that the most recent book was given directly to French translator Jean Luc. (The French love Cyrus’ novels.) The supercilious interpreter (Steven Hauk) implies he’s hesitant to take it on because the book is fluff. Bruston is outraged. The author, however, laughs when told, compounding frustration. Something’s going on. Cyrus’ ambivalent 2 a.m. hang-up to Lana provokes her unexpected visit. We meet the kids. Their past is recalled.
Marcia Cross as Lana Holt, Bryan Batt as Bruston Fischer, Ron Canada as Cyrus Holt
Playwright Tawni O’Dell offers an extremely mixed bag. Except for the nuances through which we witness the two men’s love for one another and the reveal about Cyrus’ book, this is an old story with cliché characters. Perhaps if we’d stayed with the friends more. There’s too much exposition. “Women are putty in my hands,” (Jean Luc) is one of several blatant over-used phrases. Lana is overwritten. The end (not the reveal) is telegraphed. Quotes from Cyrus’ novels, and spontaneous thoughts which he notes for his books are rich as are intermittent passages. The title has next to nothing to do with this play.
Ron Canada’s Cyrus is grounded and real. We observe ego, intelligence, stubbornness, rue, affection, and resolution. The actor gives his character dignity. As Broston, Bryan Batt is more credible interacting with others than addressing the audience. Vulnerability and pride are well played. Marcia Cross is too expansive for Lana’s personality – a directorial issue? Steve Hauck (Jean Luc) is a caricature. Danielle J. Summons seems two beats behind, a tad too stuck in Gigi’s anger.
Marcia Cross as Lana Holt, Ron Canada as Cyrus Holt
Miles G. Jackson does a splendid job as young Broston. Also featuring Stephen Payne in an excellent cameo.
Director Karen Carpenter makes some damaging decisions. In order, one presumes, to distinguish between Garret Turner’s playing young Cyrus, and the author’s son Leo, she has the actor manifest unnatural voices; the latter especially artificial and off-putting. How does Leo spend time curiously examining his father’s apartment without seeing a large shelf exposing the reason he’s been asked there? Though Dana’s clearly still in love with Cyrus, it’s been twenty years and she faces his cruelty. Still, Carpenter has the woman throw herself at him repeatedly – before new reason has it make sense.
Costume Designer David C. Wollard believably outfits his cast. How is Lana’s cell phone too large for her tiny handbag?
Cyrus’ original apartment is created with grand detail, but other Sets appear to be from distinctively different plays. Why do we see figures crossing the stage behind the scrim? (David Gallo)
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Bryan Bratt as Bruston Fischer; Ron Canada as Cyrus Holt
Pay the Writer by Tawni O’Dell
Directed by Karen Carpenter
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street