SPEC - Theatre Review
(Volume 7 No. 4)
October 12-25, 2004
If you like a sprinkling of politics with your theater, then spec will hit the spot. Written by Tom Grimes and directed by Scott Campbell, this production of the Alliance Repertory Company is showing at Alliance's own theater in Burbank through November 14.
Spec centers on Al (John LeMay), an attorney turned filmmaker, who's looking to make his directorial debut with just the right feature. He bamboozles an impressionable young writer with stars in his eyes and art in his heart (Joe Gregori) to create a spec script filled with the requisite sex and death that comprise the standard Hollywood fare.
"Think small, think microcosm," he tells the writer, who all too eargerly sells out his film school ideals to produce the pulp on demand. After scraping their first idea, the duo settles on a political action film set in a war-torn region of the Middle East. Joining them are a greedy investment banker (Tim Abell) and two renegade commandoes (Rod Rowland and Mark Sivertsen) who use the film as a backdrop to carry out their own military operation. Premiered in 1991 during the first Gulf War, it's not surprising that spec has chosen the current world climate for its revival. Its social commentary on how both entertainment and politics are vapid entities that cater to the lowest common denominator is still relevant. Both focus on showmanship, power, villians, heroes, struggle and payoff. It's political theater in the truest sense.
Only problem is that these themes are as hackneyed today as they were in 1991, leaving "spec" as just another formulaic production that criticizes the formula from which it emerged. Its characters are recycled caricatures; the fast-talking attorney, the writer sell-out, the greedy investment banker who reminds, "Everything sucks, we're all gonna die, let's make some f*cking money." Been there, seen that.
But despite these shortcomings, spec still has much to offer in the form of great performances and crisp writing. And perhaps most appealing is its lack of a moralizing protagonist, which is fitting, given that in politics and show business, all are equally guilty, despicable and self-serving.
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Photo (by Scott Campbell): John D. LeMay and Joseph Gregori in spec at the Alliance Repertory Company.