Long Beach Playhouse deserves its own prize for and the winner is…

by Vicki Paris Goodman
Entertainment Writer

Imagine dying before the biggest night of your life. You fall down a chute into a way station in the form of an Irish pub devoid of liquor and beer. The proprietor, Seamus, resembles a man-size leprechaun with a pain-inflicting clicker reminiscent of an alien punishment device from one of several Star Trek episodes. God forbid (oops! ouch!) a newcomer should take the lord’s name in vain.
So who comes down the chute? None other than Hollywood Best Supporting Actor nominee Tyler Johnes, “that’s Jones with an H,” a self-centered, wife-cheating narcissist of biblical proportion. It is the night before the Academy Awards. Fortunately for the audience and playwright Mitch Albom, of Tuesdays with Morrie fame, Tyler has a lot of growing up to do. And we get to watch him learn a few lessons.
Albom imaginatively contrives the movie roles for which Tyler and his arch rival and co-nominee from the same movie were nominated as that of a couple of “Chippencops”– yes, a combo of Chippendale dancer and law enforcement officer, complete with a pistol. The get-up alone, by costume designer Donna Fritsche, is hysterical.
Cast member Bill Peters gives Tyler’s egotism its over-the-top insensitivity, especially when it comes to the treatment of his unfortunate wife Sheri, played with a kind and forgiving decency by Stephanie Schulz. Peters also gives the arrogant Tyler a flicker of vulnerability. And that’s what gives Seamus his pinkie-toe-in-the-door opportunity to make a difference in Act II.
Cameron Bass-Jackson vainly delivers the equally self-absorbed role of Kyle, Tyler’s loathed costar and co-nominee, who is tall and sexy and possesses a handsome face and a head of hair that doesn’t quit. Surprisingly, Peters looks almost as cute in the Chippencop costume as the writhing, pole-dancing, male model-esque Bass-Jackson, but I digress…
Tyler manages to strike a deal with Seamus, who allows him one trip back through the ozone layer to attend the Oscars, where Sheri appears with divorce papers. What happens in the end will warm the cockles of your heart– no, it’s not what you’d expect.
Actor Daryl Mendelson takes on an exaggerated French accent as Teddy, the money-hungry agent who suits Tyler to a tee. Katie Gallagher plays bimbo Serenity, the stereotypical trophy arm candy who accompanies Tyler to the big event.
Gregory Cohen directs the fabulous cast, whose comic timing never failed– not even on opening night, when you’d expect there might be a few early-run flaws.
If anything, the few points at which the action slightly drags are most likely problems with the play as written, rather than anything within the control of the cast and director.
and the winner is… makes delicious fun of Hollywood while raising questions about the afterlife and how one spends his or her time on Earth. It’s fresh, it’s funny, and in the end it’s poignant. Overall, and the winner is… is a lot of fun.
and the winner is… continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through Feb. 13. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees on January 17, 24, 31 and February 7 at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at www.lbph.com.

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