Get your awards speech ready, but keep it brief. Practice your best also -ran face. Remember all the things people told you you needed to change and you’re pretty sure a talent agent would, too. Then you’ll be ready to have fun in the pre-show activities. “Big Night” (no relation to the movie by the same name) is all about the Oscars but is overstuffed with big night worthy announcements while addressing many concerns of the LGBT community.
Written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Walter Bobbie, “Big Night” begins on the day of a particular Oscar ceremony as Michael (Brian Hutchison) is nervously waiting for his lover Austin (Luke Macfarlane) and family in a three-bedroom suite rented by his studio. After subsisting on guest appearances on “Law & Order” and assorted other appearances, Michael has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Cary, his new agent and a long-time fan (Max Jenkins) tries to keep everything in perspective. Although much younger, Cary both comforts and advises his anxious charge with knowing business sense. Practice your awards speech while deciding on which gracious loser face to use.
All of this is funny, but the serious side of socio-political activism breaks in as Michael’s transgender nephew Eddie (Tom Phelan) arrives first and wants Michael to make a statement about another actor in his category playing a transgender role although being cis gender. Cary disapproves.
Michael it out of the closet, but we’re reminded that there was a time before Neil Patrick Harris and Matt Bomer. Michael’s mother, Esther (the glamorous, scene-stealing Wendie Malick) arrives with her own surprise–her guest is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Eleanor (Kecia Lewis). Esther has her own big news, which she coyly claims she doesn’t want to reveal to upstage Michael’s night and you know that’s only a partial truth.
Throughout, we wonder just where Austin is. Has he dumped Michael? Is he stuck in Los Angeles traffic? Does he have his own big news? Austin, it turns out, is part of the other big news of the night. Michael gets advice from all sides over how to deal with this tragedy and eventually deals with it in his own way.
In its world premiere, “Big Night” is fun but the balance between flippantly fun and seriously taking on hate crimes targeting the LGBT community doesn’t totally click together nicely. Playwright Paul Rudnick has too much to say and like the Oscars, you can mentally hear the time-to-end-your-speech music playing even though this play is only an intermissionless 90-minutes. Still the cast beams with sincerity and, over all, you’ll still leave the theater feeling hopeful.
“Big Night” continues at the Kirk Douglas until 8 October, 2017. For more information, visit the Center Theatre Group website.