Check out our interview with actor/playwriter/director Robert Wuhl.
In the first public viewing of Hit-Lit, the first play by Robert Wuhl, Emmy Award-winning actor and television writer, an upward-striving female editor at a second-tier publishing house desperate for a best-seller sees what she thinks is a brutal slaying, and hires the hit-man to write his memoirs, unaware that the presumed killer is actually an unappreciated writer.
The tone of the evening is set as the writer chops an arm off a manikin to use for firewood, while saying "A Farewell to Arms." My laughter echoed alone in the intimate Jose Quintero theatre - this was one of many moments I found hilarious but to my surprise went unshared. Press releases compared Hit-Lit to the great film romantic comedies of the '30s, but this positioning does it no favor, as the characters there were taken seriously. Hit-Lit does have a cinematic reference, but it is Abbott and Costello: fast, funny and frivolous. Its tagline might be "Not to be taken seriously", in the best sense of that phrase.
The set, apparently simplistic at first glance, takes on a life of its own as sliding panels reveal a second-story, used for action, and also permitting projections of a character's thoughts or other comic material. This script is ultra-hip, as contemporary as today's Starbucks special, and the high polish on it might come from a Revlon lipstick ad. It is delightful to watch, a joy to hear, and delectable in the opportunities it gives talented actors to strut their stuff.
Chief here is Karis Danish as editor Phoebe, beautiful, with great comic timing, and she carries the show on her lovely shoulders with captivating finesse. Tall-and-slender Adam Harrington plays the writer Julian and captures his anger at editorial rejection, his dawning love for Phoebe, and the conflict between ethics and opportunity. As Pfatt, owner of the publishing house, Richard Hollis takes a role that might in other hands be minor and makes it dynamically vivid through jitterbug energy and brilliant body language.
As Phoebe's assistant, Marisa, Christly Guedry has the body of a fitness model, as skin-tight dresses make clear, and her double-takes are admirable. Greg Cole plays Skinner Kelso, co-owner with Julian of their limo-driving business, and delivers a talented, energetic performance; he is the Lou Costello to Julian's Bud Abbott. Among the minor roles, all are good, but Kevin Lusignolo stands out as an eavesdropping bartender and Chris Battle-Williams as a finger-splaying goon.
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The production team is to be commended for its seamless sophisticated work: Kevin Rigdon for the remarkable set and effective lighting, Trish Rigdon for the interesting and appropriate costumes, and Thomas Bayne for amusing animations. And most of all, kudos to the directors. The farce is co-directed by UH's theater honcho Steven W. Wallace and playwright Robert Wuhl - they keep the action popping and the doors slamming and the frenzy fun. Rebecca Reynolds is the dramaturg - a few of the jokes are so familiar they might well be omitted in a play this contemporary. In a bookend moment, my laughter pealed out (again alone) toward the end, as a plot-crucial rejection letter was placed in the hand, not of Phoebe, but of the very same severed manikin arm.
The energy flows like quicksilver and the tone is light-hearted and amusing, and the acting superb, resulting in a fresh, original and inventive comedy, polished to a high gloss and certain to delight an appreciative audience.
Hit-Lit continues through February 2, at UH, Jose Quintero Theatre, 133 Wortham. For information or ticketing, call 713-743-2929 or contact www.uh.edu/class/theatre-and-dance/.