Set in the early 1990s, the play centers on a young gay male couple, Penn (Kevin Held) and Aron (Graham Fulmer). Penn is a scriptwriter and aspiring director; Aron is an aspiring producer although, of late, he's only been getting to work on karaoke videos. The play depicts in microcosm the dysfunctional relationships that result from living and working in Hollywood while remaining closeted.
Patrick, who is best known for his 1975 Broadway success Kennedy's Children, is blessed with a keen wit and a penchant for snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, in Hollywood at Sunset, he is also prone to repetitive themes and static situations. The play lasts just under two and a half hours and has two intermissions; the first two acts could easily be cut down to a manageable length, eliminating the need for the second break. The characters repeat the same arguments in each act with just a few shifts in setting and circumstance. Even the third act, which demonstrates some character growth, could use some judicious trimming.
Anchoring the production is the performance of Kevin Held. This talented young actor brings the character of Penn to life in all of his contradictions: He is catty and charming, a go-getter who is deeply insecure, and a self-loathing homosexual who wants nothing more than to stay at home with his boyfriend and watch his favorite videos. Held commands the stage with a vibrant stage presence that makes Penn immediately likeable despite some of the decisions he makes in regard to his relationship and career.
Unfortunately, his scene partner for this two-hander is not quite as adept. Fulmer seems to have a limited range of expression and plays the majority of the script on the same note. Since that note is one of resignation with an occasional flare of anger, his performance also tends to bring the energy of the production down.
Directed by Barry Childs, Hollywood at Sunset is the latest world premiere by TOSOS II. The company has presented some of the best Off-Off-Broadway shows in recent years, such as the revival of Doric Wilson's Street Theater, the FringeNYC hit Penny Penniworth, and that brilliant satire of the theater industry: Bernadette and the Butcher of Broadway. All of those shows were marked by a whimsical flair and a commitment to ensemble acting that seems missing in Hollywood at Sunset.
Although the play has some genuinely funny moments, it never enraptures the viewer. Additionally, its setting in the early 1990s makes it feel dated, which is unfortunate for a world premiere production; the characters spend long stretches of dialogue debating the merits of movies such as Philadelphia and Interview with the Vampire, of recent vintage for the characters but less than current for present-day audiences.
Their discussions do succeed in showing us the different places from which the characters are speaking and their attempts to communicate with each other in the only way they know how: talking about film. For example, Aron uses the plot points in Philadelphia to lash out at Penn and his inability to stand up for his own writing. Penn, he argues, would make the same kind of writing decisions and concessions that desexualized and neutered the gay characters in Philadelphia. In moments such as this, it's clear what this play might have been. However, as it currently stands, Hollywood at Sunset is a diffuse work that needs some serious editing to make it viable for stage production.
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