MOM THEATRE LOVER: BILLY & RAY: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
“Mad Men” star Vincent Kartheiser and Broadway’s Larry Pine (CASA VALENTINA) play Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, respectively, in BILLY & RAY, Mike Bencivenga’s new play — directed by the famed director/writer/producer Garry Marshall — being given its NY premiere at the Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street).
Completing the cast of BILLY & RAY are Sophie von Haselberg (THE CAT AND THE CANARY) as Wilder’s long-suffering secretary, and Drew Gehling (JERSEY BOYS) as a beleaguered studio chief.
Set in Hollywood in the 1940s (with a fab set by Charlie Corcoran) , BILLY & RAY follows award-winning writer-director Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler as they team up and attempt to push the envelope as they adapt the novel Double Indemnity for the silver screen, featuring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Chandler is coerced into writing in the presence of Wilder, which he agrees to only because he is eager for a steady paycheck so he can buy his wife a home in LaJolla. He accepts Wilder’s wily ways, and they fight over everything including smoking, opening windows, how to address each other, etc, but despite it all, eventually produce cinematic gold.
With mentions of the challenges of working within the confines of censorship, the impact of the Holocaust on Wilder, and the fact that Chandler was a vet (perhaps contributing to his alcoholic ways), there is an inkling of depth that could have been interesting to explore. Instead, what we see is a somewhat draggy depiction of the maddening collaborative writing process of two talents who drive people around them crazy, including Wilder’s poor, dedicated assistant Helen, who can barely break to spend time with her sister who frequently calls.
Haselberg, who is the spitting image of her mother, Bette Midler, makes an appealing NY stage debut, and provides a nice bit a of a comedic balance to the serious portrayals of Kartheiser, Gehling and particularly the crusty Pine. Neither actor has much to draw on from the script, and thus must rely on character develop based on researching the lives of Chandler and Wilder. This is a shame, given the formidable talents of Wilder and Chandler, and the potential interest more of a back story might have offered.
BILLY & RAY has costume design (love the outfits worn by Haselberg) by Michael Krass, lighting design by Russell H. Champa, and sound design (great rain storm) and original compositions by David Van Tieghem.
Mr. Marshall directs BILLY & RAY Off-Broadway, having directed the play’s world premiere in the spring of 2013 at the Falcon Theatre, located in Burbank, California and founded by Mr. Marshall and his daughter Kathleen Marshall LaGambina.
Vincent Kartheiser received two SAG Awards for his performance as the ambitious young ad man Pete Campbell in AMC’s hit series “Mad Men”. He played the lead villain in the Andrew Niccol feature In Time opposite Justin Timberlake and he appeared in Universal’s film Alpha Dog. He also starred in the independent films Elektra Luxx, Killing Zelda Sparks and Waning Moon.
Larry Pine most recently appeared on Broadway in CASA VALENTINA. His other numerous Broadway credits include THE ROYAL FAMILY, THE SEAGULL, END OF THE WORLD, as Roy Cohn in ANGELS IN AMERICA, and BUS STOP. He has appeared in countless Off-Broadway and regional productions, and in the films Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and three other Woody Allen films. Television credits include “House of Cards,” “Hostages,” “The Good Wife,” and “One Life to Live.”
Sophie von Haselberg makes her NY theater debut with BILLY & RAY. She has previously appeared in THE CAT AND THE CANARY at Berkshire Theatre Group, OUR TOWN at Williamstown Theatre Festival and THE FATAL EGGS at Yale Cabaret. She also worked with Woody Allen on his next feature film.
Drew Gehling appeared on Broadway in JERSEY BOYS and ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, and Off-Broadway in A MINISTER’S WIFE and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.
Director Garry Marshall is a veteran producer, director and writer of film, television and theater. After graduating from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he went on to create, write and produce some of television’s most beloved situation comedies, including “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” and “The Odd Couple.” Marshall is passionate about live theater. His play SHELVES was performed at the Pheasant Run Playhouse in St. Charles, Illinois, and THE ROAST, which he co-wrote with Jerry Belson, ran at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. In addition, he co-wrote WRONG TURN AT LUNGFISH with Lowell Ganz, which he went on to direct in Los Angeles with Hector Elizondo, and in Chicago and Off-Broadway with George C. Scott. At the request of Placido Domingo, he made his operatic directing debut at Los Angeles Opera in 2005, with his own adaptation of Offenbach’s THE GRAND DUCHESS, starring Frederica von Stade. In 2007, he joined the San Antonio Opera to direct ELIXIR OF LOVE, which received rave reviews. He has directed 17 movies, including Pretty Woman, Beaches, Overboard, The Princess Diaries 1 & 2, Runaway Bride, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. In 1997, Mr. Marshall built a theater in Burbank, California with his daughter Kathleen, called the Falcon Theatre. HAPPY DAYS: A NEW MUSICAL made its debut there, co-produced by his sister Ronny Hallin, who also produced the TV series.
Mike Bencivenga is a writer and director of theatre and film, whose full length plays include SINGLE BULLET THEORY, COUPLETS, SUMMER ON FIRE and, most recently, BAD HEARTS. In 2013 BILLY & RAY won the prestigious W. Keith Hedrick award for best play. Mike has also written and directed two feature films, Losers in Love and Happy Hour (co-written with Richard Levine) starring Anthony LaPaglia, Eric Stoltz and Robert Vaughn. Happy Hour received the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2004 Florida Film Festival and the PRISM Award for Best Festival Film in Los Angeles. In addition, Mike is an Emmy-winning producer for his work at WABC-TV in New York.
Dedicated to the creation and production of daring new plays and musicals, The Vineyard has consistently premiered provocative, groundbreaking works, including Nicky Silver’s THE LYONS; Marx, Lopez and Whitty’s Tony Award-winning musical AVENUE Q; Kander and Ebb’s THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS; Bell and Bowen’s [title of show]; Paula Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (1998 Pulitzer Prize); Edward Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN (1994 Pulitzer Prize); Tarell Alvin McCraney’s WIG OUT!; Jenny Schwartz’ GOD’S EAR, Will Eno’s MIDDLETOWN, and many more. The Vineyard’s productions have been honored with two Pulitzer Prizes, three Tony Awards, and numerous Drama Desk, OBIES, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards.