Desperate Writers

How disappointing when a catchy premise fails to fulfill expectations. There is potential hilarity in the trials and tribulations of Hollywood writers who battle with capricious studio executives, but the storytellers should set a consistent comedic style. Playwrights Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber, who also have featured roles in the production, mingle romantic comedy with farce, and the two styles are not a good mix here. Director Kay Cole makes the most of the farcical elements, but even she cannot overcome the material.

Ashley (Kate Hollinshead) and David (Chris Petschler) are a writing team that can't get a break. She wants to marry him and have a baby, but he wants to wait and get "all his ducks in a row." Everyone rejects their latest screenplay without reading it through to the end, so Ashley and David decide to kidnap three production executives and force them to listen to the entire script.

The first act establishes the writers' problems but is lackluster; nothing is original or engaging about the couple's romantic relationship. The humor begins to emerge in the second act, when the kidnapping occurs. Two of the hostages make comments on the script, treating their bizarre predicament as a pitch meeting, while eccentric characters enter and exit, heightening the farce. But just as the three captives are forced to hear the couple's script, so is the audience. As one character says, "It's derivative."

The most delicious moments are provided by Peter Van Norden as one of the hostages. He jumps headlong into the absurdity when he pleads the cause of the Hollywood executive. Grenrock and Schreiber are more impressive as the other captives than as the creators of this piece. Judy Nazemetz goes over the top as the couple's improbable agent, and it works. Petschler tries his best with a clich├ęd character, and Hollinshead is appealing, but in this context her British accent gets in the way.

Presented by Alexandra Guarnieri at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Oct. 18-Dec. 14. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (800) 595-4849. www.desperatewriters.com.