Neil LaBute’s newest play as MCC Theater’s Playwright-in-Residence is neither his finest nor his funniest. His acute sense of humor nevertheless lends itself well to the subject of The Money Shot: Hollywood’s new breed of movie stars, steeped in GOOP and desperation.
Tasked by an unorthodox film director to discuss an important sex scene the night before shooting, vapid actress Karen (Elizabeth Reaser) invites her misogynistic, racist, all-around-ignorant co-star Steve (the always dependable Fred Weller) to the Hollywood Hills villa she shares with her prickly partner Bev (Callie Thorne). Steve brings along his new wife Missy (a forgettable Gia Crovatin). Together, they try to hash out Karen and Steve’s sex scene, which both believe could resuscitate their dwindling careers.
The aimless plot takes a whopping hour to really get underway—culminating in an unexciting physical showdown that loses momentum almost as quickly as it tries to gain it. But if you can ignore the basic lack of story, the first two-thirds of LaBute’s L.A. satire are fast and funny, particularly thanks to the frequent disagreements between Bev and Steve on the simplest of topics (whether Belgium is in Europe, for instance)—and the all too realistic swiftness with which they turn to their phones for answers.
The obvious standout is Thorne (of USA’s Necessary Roughness), who convincingly channels and curbs Bev’s hot-tempered incredulity at being surrounded by imbeciles. The more delightful comic standout is Reaser, who replaced Heather Graham just weeks before the first preview—perhaps for the better. She generates the most genuine laughs as an insipid starlet oscillating between sighs and screams while boasting about her cause-of-the-week charity benefit. Reaser takes what could have been a grating stereotype and turns it into a riotously waggish (if not wholly believable) satire.
Unfortunately, though the dialogue is top-notch, there’s not much at stake here, and certainly nothing that resonates after you leave the theatre. (The Money Shot plays through October 12 at the Lucille Lortel.) But given that three of the four main characters are utterly vacuous, perhaps that’s the point. B-