Kidnapping Laura Linney
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
July 17, 2008
There's an amusing note in the program for Kidnapping Laura Linney, written by Philip Mutz and directed by Nadia Wahhab, that the role of Carla will be played by Scarlett Johansson. That effectively sets the tone for an amusing, relatively light play with a funny cast.
Brainy actor/writer Josh and his best friend, perpetual frat boy Steve (also an actor), are stagnant in their lives, watching B movies and getting by thanks to funding from Steve's rich father. When the latter stops the gravy train, the boys need a plan to pay the rent so Josh decides to follow through with a sitcom script which he's been tinkering titled "Kidnapping Laura Linney." The premise of his script centers around a group of co-inhabitants (not unlike themselves) and their plot to kidnap the title character. As Josh goes into overdrive to finish the script, Steve's actress girlfriend Carla wants in with the project and is suddenly titillated by Josh's ambition. Soon all three are on set taping an episode of Josh's sitcom with another actor, Trisha. All seems well until Steve witnesses Josh and Carla kissing and quietly grows jealous. And when Laura Linney objects to the sitcom with her name, our heroes plot their revenge.
Mutz's script doesn't waste time, and it's clear that he is not taking anything too seriously here. His characters are nicely drawn with flaws that are relatively non-threatening and humorous more than anything. Mutz shows a knack for the funny callback with his characters whether it be Steve's conceit or Carla's neediness. Because this a story within a story, he has the opportunity to poke fun at his own writing, which makes it all the more enjoyable. There are extended segments of funny exchanges (for example, when Josh and Steve are discussing whether the premise for their sitcom is a viable one).
There are quantum leaps of reality (e.g., having a pilot sitcom script picked up a television network and having your friends star in that sitcom), and some of the plotting seems forced. This isn't troubling, because the play isn't so much about the obsessed pursuit of fame as it seems to be about friendship. Indeed, at one point Josh explains to Steve that kidnapping Laura Linney is merely a disposable plot device. The casual tone of the script allows for these leaps of reality—but when the story veers into a love triangle, it is possibly too casual.
Director Nadia Wahhab does a good job not getting in the way of the script, creating very basic blocking and some very funny instances of physical comedy in a very limited playing area [the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre]. There's even a klutzy slapstick fight executed well in the space.
Chris Critelli has a very comfortable grasp of the character Steve. He plays the good buddy extremely well, large on beer drinking but limited on maturity and emotional development. Mutz has a nice deadpan presence as Josh. Alley Scott is very strong as the fickle Carla. She is all at once charming, vexing, and alluring. Raisa Ellingson has limited duty as Trisha, the other actor in the sitcom. Her character's primary purpose is essentially to allow Carla to ruin the taping of the sitcom episode.
Considering the space and budget, the production economically uses its resources. Ben Horner is effective but somewhat sloppy with his sound design that comes into play most significantly during the sitcom taping sequence. Mutz did his own set design which is an ode to bachelorhood and a nod to Oscar Madison's room in The Odd Couple.
Mutz takes advantage of the world he creates, inserting himself in the role of writer/mover/shaker, going from 0 to 60 in nanoseconds and becoming the breadwinner on a minute's notice. This is his first full length play to be produced, and he shows a lot of promise for writing three dimensional characters and witty dialogue. His future success may not be such a leap in reality.