JT LeRoy, Stephen Glass, James Frey, Jayson Blair: In this age of fast fame and fortune, it’s become increasingly common for new, exciting literary wunderkinds to blast onto the scene with real-life tales of sex, drugs, and crime, only to be quickly exposed as frauds.
Jeff Talbott’s The Submission, which opened off-Broadway Tuesday at the Lucille Lortel Theater, explores the creation of a similar literary deception–but this time set in the theatrical world.
Presented by the MCC Theater Company, The Submission sees out actor Jonathan Groff (Glee, Spring Awakening) playing Danny, a gay white playwright who has finally written a drama he’s been assured is full of potential. The only problem is that his play is about a poor black family in the projects. Danny believes that the only chance his play has of reaching a wider audience is if he changes the packaging a bit, so in true LeRoy-ian fashion he hires a young black actress (True Blood‘s Rutina Wesley) to portray Shaleeha G’ntamobi, Danny’s alter ego and ostensibly the play’s author.
Something less than hilarity ensues.
Talbott’s intention is to explore questions of authorship and identity, both sexual and racial. Why can’t a gay white man tell a story about a straight black woman? Does he succeed? So far, the reviews aren’t stellar: Ben Brantley wrote in the Times, “Despite (or perhaps partly because of) the consistent smoothness of the cast, they never become fully drawn individuals,” while Scott Brown’s review in New York magazine says that “conflict is no guarantee of drama, spotlit Actor Moments don’t add up to cogent playwriting, and radioactive words (even The Word) are no merit badge of bravery or honesty: For all their flash, they can’t, in an instant, rescue a story from its own contrivances or a character from the box his author’s put him in.”
While the critics might not be raving, the play did earn Talbott the inaugural Laurents-Hatcher Award earlier this year and is directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie (School for Lies, Chicago). The cast, which also includes Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) and Will Rogers (From Up Here), is full of promising young talents. And the play highlights issues that continue to make headlines.
We submit it might be worth checking out.
The Submission runs at the Lucille Lortel Theater through Oct 22.
Images via MCC Theater