Billy and Ray

Just a quick note about Mike Bencivenga's Billy and Ray, a new play at the Vineyard Theatre. Ostensibly, the play is about Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, and chronicles their collaboration on the classic film, Double Indemnity. Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) stars as Wilder and Larry Pine (Casa Valentina) is Raymond. They are accompanied by a secretary, Helen (Sophie von Haselberg, a dead ringer for her mother, Bette Midler), and a studio exec, Joe (Drew Gehling).

The night I saw the play, I stayed for a post-show discussion. (The playwright, Kartheiser and von Haselberg participated.) Bencivenga said he was inspired to write the play because he'd heard stories of Wilder and Chandler's rocky relationship, that they had great fights while writing their noir film. Bencivenga said he wanted to show that. I wish he had. Instead, he wrote a multi-tonal (and, therefore, cacophonous) first draft of a story that, as presented, has low stakes and little connection between the two writers.

Moreover, Karheiser's baby face makes Wilder seem significantly younger than he was (38), and he plays him like an impish, functioning drunk. Pine is a great actor, but there's little he can do with the sub-par material. Von Haselberg and Gehling are mostly pleasant distractions, but even they are weighed down by Garry Marshall (yes, that Garry Marshall)'s poorly-paced direction. If we were on the Paramount lot, as the two writers were, this is where the studio suits would barge in a demand rewrites.