Paul Rudnick’s new play “Big Night,” which has an Oscar-nominated Hollywood veteran facing comedy and crisis, premiered, at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre on Saturday, September 16. The seriocomic ensemble play looks at fame, family, and a desire to speak out on the awards stage (before the orchestra plays them off).
On many levels, the play satires the pomp and pomposity of big awards nights, this one the biggest in L.A. – Oscar night. While set in Beverly Hills, the play is actually staged in the heart of film land, Culver City, right by Sony Pictures and near other studios. This is turf Rudnick is at home in, having written several highly successful and funny films, novels and plays.
Rudnick’s work often displays his honed sense of hilarity mixed with the ability to tackle tough topics. This effort has some great moments but it is at times over the top and slow in others.
It’s Hollywood’s biggest evening and Michael (an earnest, likeable Brian Hutchinson) is stressing. Michael has toiled for years in regional theater and TV guest spots. Now, he is nominated for an Academy Award for a movie role that is changing his life. As he puts on his Armani tuxedo and prepares for the show, his new agent Cary (a charmingly glib Max Jenkins) enters. Cary is comic relief skewering agents everywhere with talk about the increased money his Oscar-nominated client will now make for the agency.
His transgender nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan) arrives to implore Michael, who is gay, to turn his acceptance speech into a political statement on behalf of the LGBTQ community. Then his mother Esther (one-liner queen Wendie Malick) arrives, dressed red carpet ready. She avoids being a Jewish mom stereotype with her bombshell introduction of her new lover, a black Pulitzer Prize-winning female professor from Columbia University (a solid Kecia Lewis).
When Trouble Strikes
Michael is worried because his partner Austin (Luke Macfarlane) is not returning his calls. And, just before his big moment, Mike’s night – and presumably all of L.A.’s – takes an unexpected turn. The play then dials down the comedy (and unfortunately the pace) when a real world crisis interrupts the picture-perfect celebrity event.
Spoiler alert – The tragic premise is a terrorist event at a gay club on awards night. While it is not clear when Rudnick wrote the play, the 2016 Tony Awards happened the same day as the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. The tragedy was acknowledged several times during the Tony telecast, including acceptance speeches as seen here.
Uninjured but shocked, Michael’s directly from shooting scene ignites the group’s emotions. But, the ensemble realizes they cannot do more than watch the death toll mount on their phones and stare at news footage. Unfortunately for the audience, this is as visually interesting as it sounds. That said, the pace of “Big Night” does pick up at the end.
Besides the renown of Rudnick, the show has a great team supporting it. Tony winner Walter Bobbie (“Chicago” and “Bright Star”) directed. William Ivey Long dressed the cast, including the stunning gown on Malick. The luxurious hotel room set by John Lee Beatty is also noteworthy.
Hollywood’s “Big Night” runs without intermission for roughly 90 minutes. The cast will continue to face the comedy and crisis in Rudnick’s “Big Night” at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City through October 8, 2017.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance September 16, 2017
Center Theatre Group
Photos by Craig Schwartz. Top. L-R: Luke Macfarlane and Brian Hutchison in “Big Night” at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre. Inset: L-R: Kecia Lewis and Wendie Malick in “Big Night.” Both © 2017 Craig Schwartz