Imagine throwing a party and inviting only the most smug, pretentious, and ruthlessly ambitious college kids. You know, the kind of Ivy Leaguers who can’t resist telling tales about their sad, lonely, but nonetheless precocious boarding school days or their ha-ha drugged-out freshman mishaps or their star-making publishing deals that just fell from the clear blue sky, though of course writing was always their thing. Privilege is fun to be around for a little while (if there’s a well-stocked bar), but inevitably (usually around the second drink) it turns obnoxious and dull. This happens rather quickly in Paul Grellong’s Manuscript, a drama about three golden kids whose moneyed upbringing, good looks, and presumably high SAT scores only make their moral idiocy that much harder to bear.
At home in his parents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone during a break from Harvard, David (Pablo Schreiber), an aspiring novelist, plays host to his buddy Chris (Jeffrey Carlson), a Manhattan prince with the suave manner of a ’40s movie star. The two are awaiting a visit from Chris’s new girlfriend at Yale, Elizabeth (Marin Ireland), a snotty deb with a published boarding school memoir to her credit. Though neither acknowledges knowing the other in front of Chris, Elizabeth and David have a complicated history together. Not only were the two romantically linked, but she apparently stole his idea for her sensational book. And she’s prepared to steal another, when a manuscript is discovered by Chris while copping opium (the drug of choice for the spoiled-brat set?) at the home of his celebrated author friend who’s apparently just overdosed.
Plot twists abound with little concern for credibility, a tendency that should prove irritating but actually serves to distract from the really irritating characters onstage. My friend and I pieced together the hidden story about halfway into the drama, and then with another 45 minutes left to go whispered alternative endings that would have tickled us more. Something had to be done in the face of so much boredom, not to mention increasing biliousness. Elizabeth shamelessly exploits her sexual wiles to get what she wants, and her flagrant soap opera villainy serves as a kind of green light for David and Chris’s misogyny toward her. Erotic interest between the two young men is hinted at (they’re like an unfelonious version of Leopold and Loeb), though somehow the playwright resists adding homophobic flourishes to his malicious story.
Bob Balaban’s production is attractively designed (apartment envy is unavoidable, even if David feels the need to apologize for his Brooklyn address) and adeptly cast as far as the young men (all Ireland lends her shrill character is a Carol Lombard-like glamour). But surely the inspiring Daryl Roth Theatre, newly free after De La Guarda’s five-year run, deserves more than this melodramatic trifle of aristo nastiness.