Follies of Grandeur
nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
February 4, 2006
Follies of Grandeur is a pseudo-autobiographical play that recounts playwright Ross MacLean's adventures in the early 1970s when he worked at a Hollywood strip joint called the Ivar Theatre. The play starts off with a Narrator (openly MacLean's younger self) explaining to the audience that he used to work as the stage manager at the Ivar, which was once a legitimate theatre, now fallen on hard times, and reduced to a den of sin.
The show is mostly serious, but it does have a few nice comic moments, especially when showing the unglamorous side of the sex industry, such as the deliberately lackluster dance routines of the strippers. One such gag has a stripper who neatly folds each item of clothing she removes during her routine and stacks them at the foot of the stage. Another girl simply walks onstage and drops her jeans, with a half-hearted "Tada!" gesture. All of this happens on a set designed by Michael Muccio, which looks just like a disreputable burlesque house, with broken-down chairs and a creaky runway (not to mention a liberal amount of used Kleenex wads scattered throughout).
These comic moments appear only infrequently, though, and MacLean mostly tries to genuinely engage the audience in the lives of his characters. MacLean begins by telling the audience that he didn't much care for the inhabitants of the Ivar at the time, but looks back on them with fondness. The audience, alas, doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight here, and must spend 90 minutes with a group of thoroughly unlikable people.
These characters consist of three dancers who are embittered, stoned, or completely self deluded. A fourth girl enters the story about halfway through the show, but isn't more finely developed than the others. The men who patronize are filthy perverts who don't evolve much beyond that image. MacLean's alter ego is tolerable enough, but the rest of the gang just aren't that interesting, sympathetic, or even the type that one can grudgingly respect.
There's also not much story to be had; the thrust comes from the newest dancer Melody (Jennifer Dominguez) who drifts into Hollywood looking to be a star and finds herself at a third rate meat-market. There isn't a whole lot of resolution to her story, and there are a few red herrings thrown out too, like a brief scene where she blurts out that she was molested as a child. Much of the story also follows the younger version of MacLean, but this doesn’t go anywhere either, and has its own share of red herrings, such as a few references to his bisexuality.
The cast gives it their all, but the cliché characters, even if based on real people, simply overstay their welcome. By the end of the show it's still not clear why MacLean looks back fondly at these people, or just what made the Ivar so special.