In “The Money Shot,” a comedy by Neil LaBute whose humor rests largely on the playwright’s contempt for the two Hollywood couples he has created, it takes more than an hour for the audience to learn the reason why the characters are meeting. Steve (Fred Weller) and Karen (Elizabeth Reaser) are both movie stars who have gotten together with their spouses in Karen’s home in the Hollywood Hills above L.A. to discuss the request their director has made – that they have sex together for real in their forthcoming film.
Both feel they need this to revive their faltering careers. Karen hasn’t had many good roles since she came out as a lesbian. Steve’s action-hero image has taken a few hits as he’s gotten older (“…yes, I’ve done a little bit of rehab, been arrested a few times…Jesus!! You try living with the pressure, ok?”) So they are having dinner with her partner Bev (Callie Thorne) and his wife Missy (Gia Crovatin), as Karen explains, “to come back with a couple of, you know, scenarios or whatever that we might be comfortable with.”
This thin premise has led to a marketing campaign by MCC Theater (showing the four performers in bed) that is at best misleading. This is not a play about sex; it’s about revenge — the revenge of yet another playwright who is sticking it to Hollywood. “The Money Shot” is an obvious and poisonous if intermittently entertaining play that is mostly taken up with verbal jousting, though it does climax in a lengthy wrestling match. A first-rate cast does what it can to create characters out of LaBute’s easy targets and unappealing caricatures.
Steve is an outright dolt, his ignorance one of the running gags of the play, as he constantly looks up information on his smart phone in order to try to win arguments with Bev. He insists David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash is the son of Bing Crosby, that you can’t say buffaloes are in herds, and that Belgium is not in Europe.
His wife Missy is 24 years old, about half Steve’s age, beautiful and…also a dolt.
“I couldn’t do the Angelina thing and adopt,” she tells Karen at one point in discussing her and Steve’s plans eventually to have a child. “Black babies are cute and all that but I just don’t trust ‘em, I mean, like when they grow up….”
Steve defends her: “That’s not racist! That’s from experience and that just makes it a fact” – another one of Steve’s facts.
Steve bosses Missy around, insisting that she diet even though she’s not fat, forcing her to sneak food into her handbag. They’ve been married a year, and in couples counseling group therapy for six months. “It’s not court-appointed or like that,” Missy explains. “We just decided to do it.”
Neither Karen nor Bev are as repellent, but LaBute doesn’t work very hard to avoid lesbian stereotyping. Bev, a film editor, is a former high school athlete, in-your-face aggressive, and so disapproving of Karen and her star’s way of living and thinking that one wonders how they became a couple in the first place, or remain so.
A slight twist at the end is apparently supposed to represent a triumph of the little people over the self-centered stars of Hollywood, but after nearly 100 minutes of LaBute’s relentless effort to draw the audience into his smug superiority, my laughter made me feel small indeed.
The Money Shot
MCC Theater at Lucille Lortel
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by Terry Kinney
Scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Sarah Holden, lighting design by David Weiner, sound design by Bob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Cast: Gia Crovatin, Elizabeth Reaser, Callie Thorne, Fred Wller
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission
Ticket prices: $69 to $79
The Money Shot is set to run through October 19.