Genius and madness (for lack of a better term) sometimes go hand in hand. As much as we love this person for their abilities, we are concerned for their health.
The new play, Good Night, Oscar opened recently in New York City.
In 1958, The Tonight Show has moved from New York City to Los Angeles. The show’s host, Jack Paar (Ben Rappaport) is eager to have his friend Oscar Levant (Sean Hayes in an award-worthy performance) on the show. Levant is known for his off-color quips as he is for his piano playing.
For the last few weeks, Levant has been hospitalized due to mental health and addiction. His doctors have given him a four-hour pass to supposedly attend his daughter’s graduation. Instead, Oscar will be on television. While Oscar’s wife, the former June Gale (Emily Bergl) wants to be the loving and supportive spouse, she also knows that what can give him is not enough.
Hayes blew me away. I knew he was good (I’ve been a fan of Will & Grace for years), but I didn’t know he was that good.
Hayes’s Levant is a sarcastic blowhard who is not afraid to speak truth to power. He is also dealing with emotional scars that have yet to heal. Hiding those scars under jokes and pills, he is a complicated man who is both unlikeable and open about his mental illness. This is in an era in which the list of what was not allowed to be said on television was long and likely to offend many.
The strongest scene in terms of the writing (which is truly a hard decision to make) is the one in which Levant tells his story. In creating fiction (specifically in novels), there are two ways that a writer can get tripped up: showing vs. telling and infodumps. By its nature, a good script shows the action instead of telling the audience what is happening.
That does not mean, however, that the playwright can get bungled up and forget to show. What playwright Doug Wright does brilliantly is to unfold Levant’s biography in a way that is informative and funny without turning a dry list of dates and events.
When he finally gets to the piano, Levant is in his element. Hayes is hypnotic when he is playing. It was breathtaking, and beautiful, and will forever be burnt into my brain.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. This play cannot be missed.
Good Night, Oscar is playing until August 27th. Check the website for tickets and show times.
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