It’s an intriguing title, no? Short and sweet, if a little hard to distinguish among This, Doubt, Proof, Contact et al, and equally difficult to probe for meaning. But early on in the first scene we learn that who has been “picked” is an unlikely struggling young actor who’s been, along with his actress girl friend, trying to scratch out a living without much success. Suddenly, he is offered the lead role in a major film to be directed by a Hollywood star director/screen writer, playing both the hero and the villain, the “good and the bad” side of the same character.
The movie is to be something of a technological marvel, utilizing the latest in cinema sorcery. Before the genius director starts writing the screenplay, he wants to do a series of in-depth interviews with his discovery, to see what in the actor’s personal history might be of use in constructing his character for the film. Picked is shaped in two acts and it covers the three years it takes to write, film, edit and release the movie and the many months that follows its release.
Its cast includes the two romantic leads, the producer/director, another actor , and a dual role for casting director and a TV personality. Michael Wilson, who’s spent several years as artistic director of Hartford Stage, brings clarity and rhythm to this production. Its lead role is played by Michael Stahl-David, whose own career in many ways mirrors that of his character “Kevin”. Both were scooped up for leads in movies, Stahl-David’s being the horror film “Cloverfield”. Young Liz Stauber and Tom Lipinski continue to impress as the other young actors in the piece. Mark Blum, always reliable, is off/beat casting for the impassioned mogul, (James Cameron came to mind), but he manages, despite his warm and friendly face, to create a man who’s worked his way to the top using that warmth and friendliness to gain ground, but one who is clearly capable of skullduggery in order to achieve his very special creative aims. Donna Hanover, returning to the stage after her marriage to Rudy Giuliani, does excellent support work as the two women who figure peripherally in the story.
Staged on a minimal and functional contemporary set efficiently designed by Rachel Hauck, there must be 16 short scenes in the two acts. This cinematic style of writing is not my favorite, and it does require the actors to change clothes in plain sight, move furniture and make dozens of entrances and exits. It also requires everywhere to look a lot like everywhere else but it does serve to keep things moving at the rapid pace required to keep its self-contained story afloat.
Mr. Shinn, who teaches playwrighting at the New School of Drama, returns to fine form, fulfilling much of the promise he made in an earlier work, Dying City, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. We have here an interesting look at a little known side effect of a great break early in a career. It takes young Kevin two years to work through the troubles heaped upon him as punishment for the few moments of bliss and adoration that followed his being “picked”. With the help of a very strong performance from a talented cast, I enjoyed joining him on his journey. If you have no aversion to being exposed to the inner workings of an actor’s psyche, you should enjoy it too.
Picked runs thru May 22, 2011 at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th St, NYC.