Hyde in Hollywood
Shattered Globe Theatre at Victory Gardens Greenhouse (see Resident companies). By Peter Parnell. Dir. Andrea J. Dymond. With Steve Key, Brian McCaskill.
Peter Parnell’s play, which debuted at Playwrights Horizons in New York in 1989, is only now receiving its Chicago premiere. One might think that a period play about the early days of Hollywood film, set mostly in the 1930s studio system and clearly an homage to old-school Tinseltown melodrama, wouldn’t have to worry about aging well. But there’s something about Dymond’s revival of Parnell’s play that feels as dated as an early episode of thirtysomething. Oh, wait, that’s it—Hyde in Hollywood is an issue play that takes the basic structure of a behind-the-scenes film noir, anywhere from Citizen Kane to Sunset Boulevard, and plugs in the fact that the lead character, a major movie star, is also secretly gay and being hunted by an opportunistic gossip columnist. Today, Parnell’s ideas seem clichéd and quaint—just as much as the infamous episode of that TV soap opera that once showed two men lying together in bed. We watch it now and think: Wow, this was considered daring?
Here in the modern age, we can still appreciate Parnell’s raging against false moral superiority—goodness knows we’re still dealing with that—but the idea that film star Julian Hyde might be a—gasp!—homosexual seems slightly less scandalous now that all of us regularly debate around the watercooler whether or not Tom Cruise is really gay. We might be able to get over it if Dymond’s production achieved the Billy Wilder–like heights it’s looking for, but we just can’t buy this kind of epic melodrama in VGG’s in-your-face upstairs studio space, especially not when the normally dependable Key, as Hyde, is struggling for his lines left and right.—Kris Vire