The Family of Mann
When playwright Theresa Rebeck was
asked in 2007 what makes her plays tick, she replied “[b]etrayal and treason and poor behavior.” It was an honest response.
If the name sounds familiar, it should. Capital Stage did Rebeck's Bad Dates and Mauritius; more recently, B Street Theatre did Seminar (bullying and seduction involving four budding writers and a burned-out pro).
The Family of Mann is one of Rebeck's early plays, from 1994. The central character (Belinda) has quit her job as an English professor to write TV scripts in Los Angeles. (Rebeck earned a Ph.D. in Victorian lit and then wrote for NYPD Blue and L.A. Law.)
Dark comedies satirizing the falseness and commercialism of the Hollywood meat grinder are legion, and while Rebeck nails the target, she doesn't have much that's new to add. The story's told through short scenes—some in the “writers' room” (where deadline-crazed writers desperately bounce ideas off each other), some depicting social encounters where the writers let down their hair (or their pants), some featuring scenes from the vapid sitcom itself. There are smidges of “magical realism” (popular in the 1990s), including a character who suddenly grows angel wings.
This staging by the Actor's Theatre of Sacramento fits the company's pattern. Director Mark Heckman's clearly thought through the script, and some of the acting is pretty good. Jeff Machado, a former morning radio host, does well sketching in the egotistical, manipulative producer Ed; yet acting by some supporting cast members is closer to “fair.” The multiple short scenes make for much furniture-moving-in-the-dark. Production values are basic and low-budget, fitting with the company's priority.