James Franco gets bad reviews for theater directing debut

James Franco, photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills in 2010.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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If you thought Rex Reed’s reviews of Melissa McCarthy were harsh, his recent assessment of James Franco’s debut as a theater director is even more withering.

The cranky New York Observer critic was one of several reviewers who panned Franco’s staging of the new off-Broadway play “The Long Shrift” with the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York.

The play by Robert Boswell, running through Aug. 23, is notable for being one of two theater projects that the career-multitasking Franco has worked on in recent weeks. As many of the reviews noted, the star has juggled directing responsibilities on the play with his current role on Broadway in “Of Mice and Men,” which has eight performances a week.


For “The Long Shrift,” Franco re-teamed with actor Scott Haze, who appeared in the Franco-directed movies “Child of God” and “As I Lay Dying.” Haze plays an accused rapist, and the drama follows his often turbulent emotional journey following his release from prison.

The bad reviews seem to be in the rear-view mirror already for Franco, who recently published a book of poems and is reportedly set to appear in (but not direct) a movie titled “Michael.”

Reed’s review in the New York Observer described the production as “an unspeakable horror.” The plot and characters don’t make “any sense, of course, which seems to be a condition Mr. Franco thrives on.” The production amounts to about “one hour and 35 minutes of numbingly pretentious speeches. There is no intermission and the bathrooms are closed, so if you do plan to suffer through ‘The Long Shrift,’ plan ahead.”

Jesse Green of New York magazine wrote that “you have to give Franco credit for devoting some millifraction of his lightning-bug attention to serious theater.” But he should “seek out material that’s less glib and inconsistent — in other words, less like himself, or the self he mostly lets us see.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney described the play as an “emotionally bogus wannabe Sam Shepard effort” that Franco stages “like … well, a bad high school play.” The play’s “circuitously overworked dialogue has the literary feel of a stretched-out short story, and while the production is certainly Actor-y, it’s also resolutely untheatrical.”

Linda Winer of Newsday wrote that “most of the dialogue is both implausible and stupefying. Intentions are sincere but crises are bogus.” Franco has made an “an ill-considered stage-directing debut” in a play by a novice dramatist — and “inexperience is obvious in both of them.”


Twitter: @DavidNgLAT