THEATER REVIEW : Play Doesn’t Quite Make a Killing : Comedy’s thin script has charm. Two cast members pull off stellar performances, but others are over the top.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Ray Loynd writes regularly about theater for The Times</i>

There was a time, long ago, when plays and movies about theater people--their egos, schemings and offstage traumas--were fun to watch. The characters were so brittle, glamorous and hyper you wanted to run out and become an actor, or maybe, as a last resort, even a frustrated playwright or harried producer.

That narrow, self-inflated world, largely structured around the drama of an opening night, has been zanily re-created in “Making a Killing,” a West Coast premiere of a comedy with farcical elements originally produced in Vermont 10 years ago.

The impulse behind the production is to enjoy a lighthearted laugh about an alcoholic playwright (Michael Bauer) who pretends to jump off the Washington Bridge on his opening night to garner favorable reviews, his very arch actress-wife (Theresa Sanchez), their nefarious producer (understudy Michael Kelly at the performance we attended) and the playwright’s staccato-talking agent (Alexandra Handy).


The material is as thin as a wafer, which is part of its outdated charm. On the other hand, this kind of entangled charade, light on characterization, needs the keenest of players to pull it off, and the production certainly has two of those--Sanchez’s conniving wife and understudy Kelly’s two-timing producer-lover.

Their comic timing is often hilarious, and if Kelly’s bulky, smarmy producer is an understudy, you can only wonder how good the regular actor (Johnny Lage) might be.

Arguably the other two actors (Handy’s agent and Bauer’s playwright) contribute flavorful twists and turns, but director Katherine Huston has given each of them much too long a leash. Each is over the top.

Handy’s smart-talking agent is a blunt cliche. Full of New York-ese speech patterns, she opens up the play in such a blitzkrieg of cackling patter you can hardly understand her. She mercifully settles down as the play progresses. More seriously misdirected is Bauer’s playwright, hiding away in a Vermont cabin in a mind-defying con game involving both his wife and producer (who are gradually exposed as secret lovers).

Bauer giggles all the time, which gets tiresome, and his sudden, unexpected lurch into personal angst -driven suicidal autobiography doesn’t work, either in playwright John Nassivera’s need to turn suddenly intimate or in Bauer’s teary acting about his attraction to drowning.

Director Huston’s two-level set design nicely alternates the action, bouncing between office and cabin, embellished by Tom Jackson’s pinpointed lighting design. Apt original music is performed and arranged by Henry Gonzales and Handy.


The title is taken from playwright Robert Anderson’s line (reprinted on the program’s cover), “You can make a killing in the theater, but you can’t make a living.”

Where and When

What: “Making a Killing.”

Location: The Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Ends Dec. 11.

Price: $10 to $12.

Call: (818) 797-6615.