Review: "The Script in the Closet" Opens Some Locked Doors

The Script in the Closet

Written and directed by Joyce Griffen

Presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club at The Downstairs

66 E 4th St., Manhattan, NYC

March 1-17, 2024

FRONT L-R: Kristin Johansen as Valerie, Ruth Kavanagh as jealous wife Lynn. BEHIND: Tom Staggs as Noah. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Some way into The Script in the Closet, a new farce from multidisciplinary artist Joyce Griffen, its characters are reduced to literally stumbling around in the dark, a scene that also serves as a neat metaphor for the misunderstandings and suspicions that have brought them to this point in the play. The titular script in Griffen's farce reveals more about the show's characters than just their writing chops as it takes up numerous narrative threads to be tied off by the close of its two hours.

The play opens with actors Micha (Tina Harper) and Robert (Patrick Huang) preparing to perform at the birthday of a child of a wealthy Upper East Side family. Their performance provides both the very funny sight of Robert rehearsing for a dramatic film audition while costumed as a children's cartoon character and, when circumstances conspire to cause Robert to leave his copy of the screenplay behind in the family's linen closet, the inciting incident for the comic misapprehensions to follow. The apartment that Micha and Robert leave so hastily belongs to Lynn (an entertaining Ruth Kavanagh) and Lionel (Mark De Rocco), partners in fiction writing as well as in marriage. The Pulitzer-winning couple employ a domestic laborer, Doris (Carrie Wilder), as well as a live-in childcare worker, Zoey (Charlotte Jones), who cares for their younger son, Jonathan. Zoey, a young woman with her own aspirations to a writing career, finds Robert's incomplete copy of the film script and, believing it to be the work of her employers, decides to try her hand at writing some further pages–using the computer that Lynn and Lionel share. When Lynn finds this work, she mistakenly assumes that her husband, who has always taken against screenwriting, must be cheating on her, in both possible senses, with another writing partner. Increasing the confusion, Lionel does later add to this piece of writing, and he won't be the only one. At times, we hear portions of this evolving script in voiceover, a clever choice for the actors to play off of. Assumptions beget further assumptions, and plots and counterplots for getting even lead everywhere from accessory-based attempts to reignite bedroom sparks to clandestine assignations.
Charlotte Jones. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
As all of this begins to unfold, Lynn and Lionel's elder son, Carlton (Isaiah Stannard), returns home after having broken up with his girlfriend, Gladys (Jada Delgado, bringing an engaging vitality to the role), only to encounter, at different points, both Zoey and the mysterious manuscript. Valerie (Kristin Johansen), one of the couple's close friends, was, and still is, a proponent of the Gladys-Carlton pairing, at least in part because of Gladys's impressive income relative to her age. Valerie's husband, Noah (Tom Staggs, making an enjoyable display of Noah's hedonistic streak), is less invested in who his friends' son ends up with than in having a good time (one might point out that Valerie has better reason though less inclination to be jealous of her husband than Lynn). Given the couples' intimacy (and sometimes their taste for a good drink), Valerie and Noah too end up drawn, along gender lines, into Lynn and Lionel's misadventures, as, to a lesser degree, does Carlton, further complicating the cascade of comedic consequences.
Isaiah Stannard as son, Carlton, and Ruth Kavanagh as jealous wife Lynn. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
The play incorporates some satire of the wealthy, including the surveillance of domestic labor in the form of an oft-defeated nanny cam, though it is of a rather forgiving variety. The show's primary concern is with jealousy and possessiveness; from Doris's daughter to the central family and friends to even Robert and Micha, jealousy has affected or continues to affect their romantic relationships, a possessiveness to which the collaborative writing that takes place could be seen as antithetical (theater, too, favors collaboration in this way). The overwhelmingly grounded performances help to underscore the serious aspects of such possessiveness, though, at the same time, the production could perhaps lean more heavily into its heightened elements. Whether creativity on the page or in the bedroom, The Script in the Closet proposes that openness and trust will pay the best dividends.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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