Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 36
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
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ON THE WAY TO FAME AND FORTUNE?: Jenna, a young actress (played by Joanne Nosuchinsky) signs on to a movie deal with killer-shark agent Joe (Jason Szamreta) while Bill, her boyfriend (Ryan Curtis), looks on with considerable apprehension in Marvin Harold Cheiten’s new play, “The Star,” which can be seen at the Hamilton Murray Theatre on the Princeton University campus next weekend, August 22-24.

Local Playwright’s “The Star” Premieres at Murray Theater: Young Starlet Goes to Hollywood Seeking Fame and Fortune

Donald Gilpin

“When an actress seeks fame and fortune in Hollywood, things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to.” Thus states an explanatory sentence on the front of the program for Marvin Harold Cheiten’s new play The Star — and the play is as predictable as that sentence suggests. But thanks to a first-rate production team, four strong supporting performers and a charming protagonist, The Star, with its stereotypical characters and situations and unsurprising plot, provides a pleasant, undemanding late summer evening’s entertainment.

Professionally staged by Dan Berkowitz, writer-producer-director now based in Los Angeles, The Star is Mr. Cheiten’s sixth premiere at Hamilton Murray Theater, where it will run for one more weekend. Mr. Cheiten, a local businessman and frequent collaborator with Mr. Berkowitz, is a leading benefactor of that theater and its Theatre Intime and Princeton Summer Theater production groups.

The Star, a sort of moral fable, is the story of young Jenna (Joanne Nosuchinsky) and her journey from Margate, New Jersey to fame and fortune in Hollywood. From the opening scene outside the gymnasium where her senior prom is taking place, Jenna has set her sights on stardom, and Bill (Ryan Curtis) has set his sights on Jenna (“I’ve always loved you — ever since we took biology together in ninth grade.”)

The rest of the play, a fast-paced series of about fifteen different scenes, takes place in Hollywood where Jenna successfully auditions for the Miss Teen Age Hollywood contest and launches her movie career. Posing as her brother, Bill sticks with her — “I can go to college any time, but I can only see the birth of a star once” — unstintingly supportive, but refusing to compromise his values in the face of the corrupting enticements of Hollywood.

Marvin Cheiten’s “The Star” will play August 22-24, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Call (609) 258-7062 for tickets and further information.

As the weeks and months pass by Jenna acquires a glitzy new look, a new identity and a new name: Lucy Gardener — “Lucy,” since she’s from Margate, where the huge statue of the elephant Lucy stands and “Gardener” since she’s from the Garden State. No, the Hollywood types who take over Jenna’s career and her life are not exactly blessed with intelligence or imagination. Famous movie producer Curtis Walker (Ken Schwarz) and his slick, fast-talking cohort Joe Swift (Jason Szamreta) unscrupulously exploit the innocent teenager.

Before Bill’s small-town values, integrity and common sense, finally prevail, Jenna goes through a series of trials. She quickly rises to stardom in “The Ten O’clock Teen-Age Rebellion,” moves into a luxurious apartment, succumbs to the temptations of alcohol, embarrasses herself in a drunken condition on a prominent TV interview show and then again at the Oscars, and gets sent to rehab. She continues to struggle with her alcohol addiction as she realizes she has lost herself amidst the glitter of her celebrity. As Bill warns her in one of their many quarrels, “You don’t know who you are any more.” And she eventually comes to realize, “Every time I look in the mirror there’s a little less of me there.”

There are moments during the evening when The Star begins to explore serious concerns about Jenna’s identity and character or her relationship with Bill or her troubled past with her neglectful father. Themes of alcoholism and the hypocritical abuses of the show business world are also on the agenda here. For the most part, however, The Star moves along happily on the surface, with little depth of characterization or exploration of these issues. The occasional serious moments tend to jar in tone with the levity of the rest of the proceedings.

The talented Ms. Nosuchinsky, a Rider College junior, is well cast as “the star” — charismatic, mostly innocent and sympathetic in her plight. Mr. Curtis provides a strong, convincing counterbalance as Jenna’s boyfriend and the mouthpiece of reason and virtue. Mr. Szamreta as the corrupting Hollywood agent is appropriately abrasive, domineering, and glib.

Mr. Schwarz displays an impressive versatility in his depiction of an array of unsavory characters — Steevy Purvis the talk-show host, dim-witted movie star Beef Bradshaw, and Jenna’s slimy, acquisitive father Gus Kitzelbaum — in addition to the coarse, unprincipled producer. Franny Silverman delivers solid support and an added plot twist as Jenna’s long-suffering dresser, who later loses her job and falls in love with Bill.

Marie Miller’s colorful costumes, highlighted by an assortment of outfits from glitzy to gorgeous for “the star,” are shrewdly detailed and on target in helping to portray these individual, albeit one-dimensional, characters. Kelly Marie Tharp’s extravagant wig and hair designs contribute significantly to the overall effects.

Carrie Ballenger’s clever, flexible set design effectively suggests the many different locales, with the famous Hollywood hills in the background, an assortment of artful furniture and single flats depicting a doorway, hotel room, a TV studio, and an apartment. The simple cardboard scenery is colorful, efficient, and cartoon-like, reflecting the artificiality of the Hollywood world it depicts and the characters who populate it.

Bill Kirby’s lively, evocative music between scenes and Christopher Gorzelnik’s lighting, including sweeping spotlights that immediately proclaim the world of show business, enhance the proceedings with skill and professionalism. An adroit, attentive, well rehearsed running crew keeps the show moving at an agreeable pace.

As a follow-up to the Princeton Summer Theater season at the Hamilton Murray Theater, The Star offers few of the theatrical riches provided by the excellent 2008 PST company — neither Tom Stoppard’s intellectual treasures and verbal dazzle (Arcadia), nor William Inge’s character depth and moving realism (Bus Stop), nor J.B. Priestley’s intriguing mystery and powerful morality (An Inspector Calls), nor Noel Coward’s wit, sophistication, and dazzling dialogue (Blithe Spirit). Mr. Cheiten, however, along with his capable ensemble and first-rate production team, provides an enjoyable journey through the dark, dazzling world of Hollywood with a charming leading lady and a heart-warming ending.

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