In 1963, Robert Redford made his Broadway debut in, of all plays, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. On the heels of that triumph, the sandy-haired heartthrob launched a successful movie career and used a portion of his Tinseltown megabucks to jump-start the Sundance Institute, a Utah artists' colony dedicated to developing new works by both filmmakers and playwrights.
While a plethora of Hollywood producers and stars are capable of financing their own pet projects, few possess the Redford-quality talent (not to mention the charisma) needed to sustain a first-rate creative lab. And it's those B-list wannabes who are the subject of local playwright James R. Cannon's Blind Spots, currently receiving its world premiere at the Acoma Center under the able direction of Chip Walton. But even though Walton and his talented cast do their best to shed some light on Cannon's show-business themes, they can't overcome the obstacles in his script, which is riddled with the very sort of cliches that the playwright wishes to satirize.
The play begins in the office of wheeler-dealer agent Hank Potters (Christopher Leo), who's trying to strike a deal with a blind actress, Mary Sutton (Kendra Crain). We learn that Mary wants to set up a long-awaited meeting with her father, Richard Lester (Paul Page), a director of slasher flicks who's evidently unaware that she even exists. Knowing that Richard is interested only in "meaningful" projects these days, Hank sends the mogul a play by fledgling writer Geoffrey Godfrey (Stephen Maestas) that concerns a blind girl, opening the door for Mary to confront her father when she portrays Godfrey's heroine at the play's first reading. It's a device that also provides a forum for Cannon to engage in a flimsy debate about the merits of theater versus the evils of TV and film. In order to sweeten the pot for Richard, Hank persuades Grace Levine (Loraine O'Donnell-Gray), a third-rate actress whose career is stalled, to deliver the script (as well as a few favors) to Richard's penthouse apartment.
Cannon intends his play to be a farce, peopled by characters who pursue the pettiest of goals with life-or-death zeal. But even though his stereotypical characters are recognizable enough, very little of what happens on stage seems believable. For instance, it strains the limits of credulity to think that anyone from L.A. would swoon over Bette Midler's supposed arrival in Richard's living room; trampling over one another to see who could make an impression as the coolest person in the room during such a visit would be more like it. What's more, much of the dialogue is plainly ridiculous ("Some people are just Richards and some people are just Dicks" and "Mine is the story of the human society, not the Humane Society" are just two of the clinkers that earned scant laughter from a capacity opening-night crowd). As a result, Cannon's two-hour play becomes a disjointed series of lame sight gags and rim-shot wisecracks.
To their credit, the performers make the most of this work in progress. Crain is especially endearing as the idealistic actress, and Leo is right on target as the quintessential agent in search of his precious 10 percent--of anything. And while Matthew E. Morgan's monochromatic, high-tech set is an impressive accomplishment, it's a shame he didn't suspend a few ropes above the stage floor. Who knows--maybe Redford and a few other show-biz Robin Hoods could have magically swooped down into the theater and lent Cannon's play some much-needed verisimilitude. Then again, that's the sort of thing that happens only in the movies.
Blind Spots, presented by Birdman Productions through June 27 at the Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 623-0524.
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