Every artist wants their 15 minutes of fame (after all, Andy Warhol did promise we all would have our moment), but the trick for an artist is to extend that 15 minutes into a career. Artists languish in a basement of doubts, menial employment and lingering questions until the elevator doors open and the ride to the penthouse begins. Then it happens…the big break comes, but just as quick it fades like smoke in the atmosphere. What must it be like to be a one hit wonder – to reach the glass ceiling of success, crack it, but not burst through to superstardom? It is a question plenty in the entertainment industry know the answer to, and thanks to clever storytelling of Christopher Shinn, audiences at the Vineyard Theatre now know what it is like as well.
Picked is a story about Kevin, a young actor poised for success when a famous, eccentric director casts him as the lead in his next big-budget Hollywood movie. Known for making John Woo-esque big action flicks, John (the director) is looking for his next film to really connect with the audience on a deeper, expressive level, and for this he wants a virtual unknown actor to play the protagonist – enter Kevin an actor that has only had bit roles, but seems to project a sincere aura and is not concerned with fame. John proposes a sketchy synopsis of a sci-fi film that takes place in space with the lead character basically battling himself as the lead and the nemesis are the same person. Kevin agrees and then undergoes a battery of brain wave scans to uncover deep issues that he struggles with physiologically and emotionally. The script is then written based on John’s findings. As production of the film begins, John brings in Nick to play the part of the Kevin’s evil other half. Kevin and Nick appear to develop a bromance that is abruptly put to a halt by Nick once production of the film ends, leaving Kevin baffled. After the successful release of the film, Nick is working consistently, but Kevin cannot book a gig. The lack of work and the bewilderment that comes with it makes Kevin estranged from girlfriend Jen, himself and eventually with the entertainment business. At the end of the play Kevin had found that like the character he played, he had grappled with his own sense of self and was left with lingering questions, while forging into a new frontier.
Playwright Christopher Shinn did put together a brainy script, but perhaps that is the problem lurking deep within Picked – it is too clever. As the production ended, the applause that came from the seats was slow and while walking out the Vineyard Theatre, the audience seemed more perplexed than entertained. Like the protagonist who underwent extreme research, it appears that audience members were a litmus test for the playwright and the director – the hypothesis: how would a group of people viewing a play react to numerous loose ends. There are multiple subplots of the Picked that were not fully developed, Kevin and Nick’s bromance, John’s issues with intimacy, Kevin’s emotional neediness with men, the lack of a deeper connection with Jen as well as Nick’s collapse.
Perhaps Shinn outsmarted the audiences by forcing them to actually think, or perhaps he overestimated the need for heady, intellectual drama. Even with these holes in the story, the cast does a wonderful job pushing through these gaps to deliver introspective performances. I was able to identify with each of these characters – people struggling to balance their human, emotive instincts with their digital/progressive selves. And that is what makes Picked worth going to see, it is not about the questions Shinn does not answer, it is about the questions you will have for yourself after viewing it. Picked is definitely gets my vote – it is mature, conscious theatre.
Photos: Carol Rosegg