Insider jokes--especially of the show business variety--don’t often go over very well out of town. The problem with John Bunzel’s behind-the-scenes show-biz comedy “Gravity Shoes,” at the Hudson Avenue Theatre, is that it overshoots its comedic targets even when performed before a Hollywood audience.
The plot revolves around two brothers, C.J. (Thomas Calabro) and Phil (Dan Gerrity), who are trying to mount a small showcase in New York with the financial backing of their hyperkinetic “investor” Lou (Richard Kind). The play within the play, also titled “Gravity Shoes,” is, ironically, about artistic mediocrity. The arcane first effort by new writer Vic (Eamonn Roche) could be brilliant--or an irredeemable dog. When Vic’s scheming agent Allison (Elizabeth Reilly) brings a big-time Hollywood producer (Sam Shamshak) sniffing around for the screen rights, the stakes grow higher--and the Machiavellian maneuverings escalate.
There’s a timeworn tendency among playwrights and screenwriters to cannibalize their professional milieus. Of course, everyone should write what he or she knows best. However, creating a story about the rarefied entertainment industry, especially when one is firmly entrenched in it, can be managed only if the playwright (or screenwriter) lends the subject an essential universality. The fine line between irony and insularity ultimately trips Bunzel.
Bunzel’s mid-'80s hit “Delirious” revolved around a group of wealthy Malibu youngsters caught in a careening slide from youthful omnipotence to drug dependency and despair. In “Gravity,” he again attempts to capture the hothouse amorality of an exotic, highly specific circle.
Granted, Bunzel zings in some laughs, and his musings about moral compromises in the artistic marketplace are thought-provoking. For the most part, however, his characters are stereotypical, his dialogue reiterative, his plot predictable and his thematic thrust disappointingly simplistic.
As he has often proved in the past, director Ron Link is a master technician who can push mediocre material a long way by the sheer force of skill. However, in this instance, Link performs like Mario Andretti in a soap box racer, frustratedly spinning his wheels but never quite getting the creaky vehicle up to speed.
Like the characters they portray, the talented performers labor mightily, with flying sweat and high-decibel bombast, to sell their show. It is a small miracle of craft that they often, against the odds, succeed.
* “Gravity Shoes,” Hudson Avenue Theatre, 1110 Hudson Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 21. $18.50. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.