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Spotlight America


Some plays seem as if they’d like nothing more than to slip out of the old-fashioned girdles holding their unwieldy parts together. Judd Bloch’s Right as Ron, a lumbering farce inspired by the recent media frenzy over the Elizabeth Smart case, would have been better off as the outrageous skit it clearly wants to be. Instead, the playwright strings out his sketch into a full-blown drama, complete with goofy reversals and a melodramatic denouement. It’s no easy task juggling 17 cartoonish characters, none of whom has more than surface satiric value—which isn’t really saying much, given the way the material sends itself up. A straightforward documentary of the ensuing Katie-Diane-Oprah competition for the interview scoop with the kidnapped Utah teen would have been mockery enough. Who needs a convoluted narrative when a few well-deployed theatrical gestures pointing to the facts would have done the trick?

But then this is not really the Smart saga. It’s more of a neo-Brady Bunch parody, laced with lampooning bits on the publicity whores we’ve all become. Naturally, we still want our 15 minutes of fame, but apparently we’re now willing to sacrifice our first-, second-, and third-born for a little spotlight. (Fortunately, the aptly named Starrs have eight fungible kids to work with.) Rather than recap the action, let’s just say things don’t get going until the kidnapper moves in with the family and begins stage-managing the post-kidnapping show, with a sneaky eye trained on the Starrs’ youngest.

Bloch has a wacky imagination, though he fails to find an original form for his lunacy. Max Williams’s production (wrong-footed from the horrible blocking to the lame, caricatured acting) compounds the clumsiness. But the lesson is that shtick without subtlety either needs to shorten into an intermission-less sketch or deepen into something more than a cacophonous SNL routine.