Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
In Theatre of NOTE’s latest, Phrazzled, we find ourselves in the room next to the Room where it all happens. A room where the underpaid and underrated scratch and claw their way to the coveted Room where they’ll know they’ve finally made it.
Int. Writers’ Assistants Room
Here we meet Phraz (Tony DeCarlo), a disgruntled TV writer’s assistant who’s discontent with his station in life. Phraz asserts the only way out of the room he’s in — the room adjacent to the real writers’ Room — is to write his way out. In his downtime of doing brutish, agonizing work for his writer-boss (Gina Garcia-Sharp) whom he loathes, he’s writing a play of substance — unlike the crappy TV show to which he seemingly (ironically) aspires — with his buddy Travis (Will McFadden), a previous co-worker. With the guidance of his office-mate Barney (Keith Hanson), he decides to write about the most fascinating of subjects: His life — except not really. Instead of writing about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss he hates, he decides to write about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss… he loves! (Write what you know… with a twist!)
Next thing you know we meet a guy named… Frasz (Troy Blendell) who’s — you guessed it! — a writer’s assistant to a boss (Sierra Marcks)… he loves! Frasz has an office-mate Betty (Andrea Ruth) who encourages him to write a play about the most fascinating of subjects: His life — except not really. Instead of writing about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss he loves, he decides to write about a guy who’s a writer’s assistant to a boss… he hates! (Write what you know… with a twist!) And of course, Frasz has a buddy with whom he’s working on said script, and his name is… Travis (Will McFadden, once again).
Are you following this? Like a dog chasing its tail, I’m sure.
That’s the set-up, and what follows is a back-and-forth exploration of office politics, sexual tension and jealousy in the Phraz/Frasz-led world(s) of TV writing. It’s meta in concept, which actually kinda works. But it’s “frazzled” in content and experience, which sadly doesn’t.
Mid-show, I couldn’t help but think whoever wrote this piece must have experience in television. Turns out, writer-director Phinneas Kiyomura has experience as both a TV writer and TV writer’s assistant. (Write what you know… with a twist!) Furthering this meta concept, I also couldn’t help but wonder how much of Phinneas — the ultimate Writer/God of the play — made it into Phrazzled and its universe, intentionally or not. For starters, Phinneas’s (with a “Ph”) very name may have inspired the Phraz/Frasz, Phrazzled/frazzled concept. Beyond that, I have no idea, and that’s probably for the best. That being said, some aspects of the script at least seem to rely on a truthfulness and/or specificity of this world (or personal experience) to the detriment of its story. (Which is ironic, as this concern is discussed as a “no-no” in both internal storylines). For example, “boss from hell” homework assignments play as a playwright’s exaggerated, aired grievances. Likewise, the plays’s bosses (hired TV writers) are actually bungling amateurs, while their truly talented assistants struggle to catch a break.
While we all know talent isn’t always rewarded in Hollywood (and the inept can be unjustly showered in gold), in order to make a story like this work and not come across as rudimentary revenge porn, the writing has to be really, really good. And Phrazzled’s, unfortunately, isn’t.
Despite its protagonist’s quip, “First sign of a troglodyte? Slim vocabulary,” Phrazzled’s amateurish script is littered with mindless expletives. All the time. By everyone. (Fuck is most common, followed by cunt, shit and ass). If this were a Tarantino flick, I’d lap it up. Instead, I bristle. These words play as a substitute for substance and prevent differentiation of characters.
Performances, overall, lean heavily over-the-top. The yelling and emphatic gesturing from stage actors to itty-bitty peeps in the balcony is gratingly unnecessary — considering this under-99-seat theater actually has no balcony, and by consequence, no itty-bitties. DeCarlo’s often bug-eyed-angry Phraz is probably the biggest culprit, and could use dialing down both vocally and physically. On a more positive note, Marcks’s writer-boss is sweet yet provocatively playful, while Garcia-Sharp’s writer-boss (in the alternate universe) ranges icy-hard to shattered.
Dean Harada’s music (especially pre-show) is edgy and fun, and Naomi Kasahara’s office design is dingy and effective.
Producers are John Money and Keith Hanson.
Stories on the inner-workings of Hollywood have been told countless times, to varying degrees of success. By their very nature they draw curious crowds. Phrazzled’s metatheatrical premise certainly provides a provocative structure to such familiar territory — yet a shell of a story does not a helluva story make. Had the interior of this piece matched its clever framework, it could have been a delightfully raucous journey behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. Alas, the best writing’s on the walls of this arduous tale.