Our society, which until recently seemed built on some semblance of reality, has now solidly entered an era of alternative facts.
If you don’t like the way something is going down, there are always new words you can use to describe reality that will make it more palatable.
Against this backdrop, the warped reality of the characters in Neil LaBute’s 2014 comedy “The Money Shot,” currently appearing at the Southampton Cultural Center’s Center Stage, seem all-too-real.
The play follows an evening in the Hollywood home of lesbian couple Karen and Bev. Karen, an aging actress, has agreed to a scheme to boost box office revenue by having actual sex on-camera with her co-star Steve. She invites Steve and his trophy wife Missy over to break the news to Bev.
When I was a kid, my father, who is an actor, told me I was too young to see Edward Albee’s upsetting 1962 play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I promptly read the script, but I haven’t yet seen the play, perhaps because, somewhere inside, I still think I’m too young to absorb the alcohol-laden abuses of the two couples in that classic play.
“The Money Shot” puts these themes on steroids, and I have to admit I squirmed in my seat throughout the show, thinking maybe I wasn’t old enough to be seeing this. But the whiplash-fast pacing and the tight dialogue kept me there.
“The Money Shot” is provocative, as it’s designed to be, and this production, under the direction of Joan Lyons, boasts some fine acting from its cast of four.
Joseph Marshall plays Steve with intense, vein-throbbing fervor, a thoroughly politically incorrect man, waiting for a fight at every turn, who thinks everything in the world is about youth, money and sex. He’s not even afraid to fight a girl in order to get his point across.
Kristin Whiting plays Bev, an unabashed gay rights advocate (and film editor) who is unfortunate enough to be the only character here with half a brain. Between her quick wits and her wrestling acumen, she is the only halfway redeemable human being in this cast of wretched souls.
Bonnie Grice brings a touch of humanity to her role as Karen, who melts down over traffic jams, thinks wistfully of her youthful career and finds solace in her new scheme as a sort-of Martha Stewart jack-of-all-trades who has rebranded herself through recipes and interior design. She shows the human side of a soul who knows her concerns are about as trivial as can be, but also knows this is the only way she has survived.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tamara Salkin’s delightfully daft Missy, whose cluelessness is the only thing salvaging this cast of characters from the depths of hell. Anorexic at her husband’s insistence (he doesn’t want her thighs to end up looking like cheese), OK with his on-air sex scheme, and nostalgic for the teenage cheerleading routine she’d helped insert into a school production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” she approaches all of this material with the gum-snapping nonchalance of someone who has no idea what is really going on.
And what is going on is tough. Don’t take your kids to see this play. It’s rough, raunchy and politically incorrect. But it is, after all, about Los Angeles.
Ms. Lyons’ set design ably puts us in the right frame of mind — a breezy patio moodily lit, wicker chaise lounges, a white shag carpet that serves double duty as a wrestling mat, bottles of varying brands of vodka strategically placed where the characters can pour (or, in the second act, swig) at will when the conversation gets tough.
A square trompe l’oeil backdrop of the Los Angeles skyline in the distance seems almost Instagrammed into the set, as if paying homage to the self-created stuff of which these characters craft their so-called lives.
“If you put on an act long enough, if you disguise who you really are from the world, do you start to transform yourself into that alternate personality and lose sight of who you really are?” asks Ms. Lyons in her director’s notes for the play.
You’ll leave the theater chewing on this question too.
“The Money Shot” will run through Feb. 5 on Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. on the stage of The Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton, across from Agawam Park.
General admission is $22 and student (under 21 with ID is $12). Group rates, brunch/theater and dinner theater packages are available at www.scc-arts.org or by calling 631.287.4377. Reservations are encouraged.