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LA Theater Review

And the Winner Is...

When journalist Mitch Albom reconnected with college professor Morrie Schwartz, he found a new career writing books and plays about the meaning of life. Unfortunately, his 2008 attempt to mesh this theme with a supposedly comedic story of a self-obsessed Hollywood movie star is as ill-conceived, clumsy, and leaden as "Tuesdays With Morrie" is tender, charming and insightful. Not even the show's title is accurate: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences long ago dropped the un-PC phrase "And the winner is...."

The premise of Albom's play brings actor Tyler Johnes (Bill Peters), who pretentiously spells "Jones" with an "h," to a way station between Earth and either heaven or hell. Unable to accept that death robbed him of the chance to win his first Oscar, he convinces Seamus (John Gilbert), the gatekeeper of limbo, to let him slip back to Earth long enough to attend the ceremony. The payoff of any story where the protagonist is narcissistic, shallow, pompous, and self-absorbed typically involves him either getting his comeuppance or undergoing soul-searching so painful it forces him to change for the better. Perhaps striving for something more original, Albom dodges both outcomes. Tyler and his agent Teddy (Daryl Mendelson, using a bizarrely mangled French accent) are obnoxious and off-putting. Studly young actor Kyle (Cameron Bass-Jackson) is a cipher. Most effective in Gregory Cohen's cast are Gilbert, whose Seamus is suitably irascible, cranky, and bored with Tyler while in limbo, courtly and charming while back on Earth; Stephanie Schulz, wholly credible as Tyler's selfless, kind, and loving wife, who has never felt comfortable in Tinseltown and can no longer tolerate Tyler's self-centeredness; and Katie Gallagher, who's everything her stereotypically kittenish blond-bimbo character should be.

Hollywood has always been a huge, ripe target for books, plays, and films. The catch is that the author must be a skilled satirist. Based on this play, Albom clearly isn't.

Presented by Long Beach Playhouse at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Jan. 8–Feb. 13. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (562) 494-1014.

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