Saturday, March 19, 2011


It's probably just a coincidence, but several plays referencing Hollywood and movies graced New Jersey stages this season. The Bickford Theatre has mounted two (in conjunction with an exhibit at the Morris Museum, with whom they share a building). Now, along comes Alliance Rep with their production of Bruce Graham's According to Goldman, a clever comedy that runs through March 26 at the Studio Theatre in the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway.

Although it unfolds in a university town somewhere in the Northeast, far removed from Hollywood, the plot revolves around former screenwriter Gavin Miller who, as his star faded, is reduced to teaching writing-for-film courses to undergraduates, none of whom seem to be on his wavelength regarding what makes a great movie. That is, until he encounters Jeremiah Collins, a senior religious studies major (and member of a cult-like sect of missionaries) who shares Miller's passion for old movies. Indeed, the young man can recite dialogue word for word and even (kind of ) dance like his idol, Fred Astaire.

Working with the student on a movie based on his life in the Kalahari Desert and a black ghetto neighborhood in the United States gets Miller's creative juices flowing again, and the two make a deal with a handshake to collaborate on the screenplay. In return, Miller will contact his agent and Hollywood contacts to get the movie made. Little does he know—or even consider—that things will turn out to be very different from the script he has written in his head concerning the film the two are about to make.

Matt McCarthy and David Munro have constructed a terrific set that encompasses four different locations: Miller's classroom front and center, the Miller living room and garden to one side and Jeremiah's dorm room to the other. Ed Pearson's lighting design helps move the audience's attention from place to place and David Christopher's taut direction keeps the action onstage flowing smoothly from one scene to another.

Too, the three talented actors' natural performances are spot on for their particular characters and are entirely convincing. Kevin Gilmartin is very charming as Gavin Miller, a man who is not afraid to call his children's movie scripts "crap" yet who almost falls for a pitch by his agent to pen a AtG01screenplay for a musical version of The Diary of Anne Frank. The way he addresses his class is totally believable (I know, I've been there), but he seems somewhat adrift back in the East, far away from Tinseltown. Playwright Graham has Miller utter references to great films—mostly black and white—which Gilmartin utters as though he's seen 'em all. Nevertheless, the character is a bit cold emotionally, especially toward his wife, which is why Gilmartin's excitement at his student's screenplay is all the more poignant. He's a fish out of water in academia, this man.

As Melanie Miller, Angela Della Ventura is warm, effusive (especially to her unseen new neighbor) and very sympathetic. She is a woman who finds herself in an environment more suited to her than Hollywood. Her discussion with Jeremiah about her dreams is especially poignant because her husband is so unhappy there. Just watching her touch her pregnant neighbor's belly and feeling a kick lets us know just how much she's missed in life.

AtG02And Jason Gillis as Jeremiah is a bit scary and off-putting from the get-go. Miller says Jeremiah dresses like he's from the movie Witness, complete with tie and pocket protector. There's an anger that simmers just under the uptight, upright, socially awkward character Gillis presents to us, which is why the ending packs such a punch (no spoiler here).

According to Goldman refers to a quote from noted screenwriter William Goldman that Miller uses in class: "Nobody knows anything"—which, of course, applies perfectly to the way events play out for both Gavin Miller and Jeremiah Collins. Go see the play and find out for yourself!

According to Goldman will be performed next Friday and Saturday at 8 PM at the Studio Theatre upstairs from the Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving Street, Rahway. For information and tickets, call 732.499.8226 or online at