Billy & Ray
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Billy & Ray: In brief
Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and Off Broadway royal Larry Pine star as film genius Billy Wilder and tough-guy novelist Raymond Chandler, respectively, in Mike Bencivenga's play about the making of the film noir classic Double Indemnity. Major Hollywood macher Garry Marshall (Happy Days) directs.
Billy & Ray: Theater review by Adam Feldman
In a Paramount Pictures office in 1943, the soon-to-be-legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder (Kartheiser) works out the script for his latest project, Double Indemnity, with crime writer Raymond Chandler (Pine). Chatty and childish, Wilder is a pill, and Chandler has trouble swallowing him without regular swigs of bourbon he has hidden in his briefcase. You can’t blame him; bourbon should be under every seat at the Vineyard for Mike Bencivenga’s inept backlot comedy, Billy & Ray, which blends the excitement of scene-by-scene DVD commentary with the sophistication of junior-class high-school drama.
Garry Marshall’s lax direction hangs the play out like a wet sock. The exposition clunks; the jokes die squirmingly. (Symptomatic of the script’s unintelligence: To demonstrate Chandler’s superior command of English, Bencivenga has him correct Wilder’s grammar twice, but in both cases Chandler is actually incorrect.) An inexperienced stage actor, Mad Men’s Kartheiser gives a mannered, charmless performance—his accent sounds like it hails from the border of Austria and Korea—while theater pro Pine, underplaying opposite him, seems to be counting Equity work weeks in his head. “We’re being grossly overpaid to make shit up,” says Wilder, and the audience is being asked to overpay to see it. Pass the bourbon, please.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE A tribute to writers should not be this hacky.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam