Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mediocre Play on the Writing of a Great Film

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mediocre Play on the Writing of a Great Film

Article excerpt

"Billy & Ray," which opened Monday night at the Vineyard Theatre, is a play about a movie. It's not a very good play, but it might be fun for passionate film fans.

Playwright Mike Bencivenga provides an almost scene-by-scene account of the writing of the 1944 "Double Indemnity," Hollywood's first significant film noir. It was also a movie that provided a guide on how to present sex and violence indirectly, thus avoiding confrontation with the puritanical Motion Picture Production Code, the industry's censoring system.

To tell his story, Bencivenga invokes one of the theater's most time-honored (and time-worn) dramatic devices: Two characters, opposites in every way, begin in conflict and end in partnership.

Austrian-born director Billy Wilder (Vincent Kartheiser), an in- formal, womanizing, cocktail-drinking quipster, needs a co-writer with a better command of colloquial English to collaborate on the screenplay of James M. Cain's crime novel.

Enter Raymond Chandler, the famous author of hard-boiled mysteries, who's older, desperate for money, tight-lipped, morbidly (in Wilder's view) faithful to his wife and an alcoholic who's recovering, at least publicly.

It's a match made in hell, but respect and kinship grow as two men with vastly different styles and temperaments come together in a common desire to make a compelling movie.

As the two brainstorm, trying out different ways to tell the story of the lustful relationship between an insurance salesman and a married woman, who manipulates him into killing her husband, we get involved with the astute choices they make.

Knowing the movie will turn out to be one of the most artfully made dramas in film history, as well as a commercial success, adds extra buzz to their work.

The play itself, though, doesn't rise very high on the artistic scale.

Bencivenga's writing is, at its best, serviceable, but very often it's awkward, struggling in vain to be witty. …

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