By Annette Hinkle
When Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center (SCC) opens its newest play next weekend, audiences may be surprised to see that it is an entirely different kind of production for this company.
For one thing, the show will be directed by Joan Lyons. For another thing, this is Neil LaBute’s 2014 “The Money Shot,” a play that delves into subject matter that could shock SCC regulars more accustomed to seeing beloved musicals or classic heartwarming Christmas fare at the cultural center.
But that’s kind of the point.
“This one is more adult oriented,” explains Ms. Lyons. “We want this to be community theater — not in the sense of just pulling from the community for our actors, but that we offer something for everyone in the community to see.”
“It’s much edgier,” she adds. “It really goes places we haven’t gone dramatically. We like to do something new that stretches the actors and directors.
Ms. Lyons is a familiar face at the cultural center, and over the years, she has acted in many Center Stage plays. Recently, Ms. Lyons has been sharing some of the directing duties with longtime SCC director Michael Disher, but this is the first production in which she is flying solo.
Set in a Los Angeles living room, “The Money Shot” tells the story of Steve (Joseph Marshall) and Karen (Bonnie Grice), two successful, but past their prime, Hollywood actors who are hoping to re-energize their careers by appearing as romantic partners in an upcoming film.
“Steve is a fading action movie star and to up his cachet, he and Karen decide to do this movie with a love scene,” explains Ms. Lyons. “They want to take the advice of the director and have a real love scene and real sex.”
But first, they want the blessing of their real-life partners — in Steve’s case, that’s his young wife, Missy (Tamara Salkin), while for Karen, it’s her girlfriend Bev (Kristin Whiting).
“They all get together to discuss the ramifications of what they’re allowed to do, the sexual positions and explanations,” continues Ms. Lyons. “The language is fairly graphic, but done in such a funny, comedic way. It’s a small part of the play, but that’s the most surprising part of the show.”
Even the name of the play speaks to the somewhat base nature of the subject matter, in that “The Money Shot” is a euphemism for the pay-off scene in a pornographic film.
Ms. Lyons concedes this new production goes where few others on the SCC stage have gone before. For that reason, she is recommending it for ages 17 and up. But she notes that the contemporary nature of LaBute’s writing and the interpersonal relationships he explores makes the play an intriguing offering for a theater company looking to go outside the box of what it’s traditionally presented.
“I think LaBute writes for a younger audience,” explains Ms. Lyons. “He’s dark and unkind to men. He skewers people. This is his first comedic piece. People who have seen a lot of LaBute plays haven’t seen this kind of thing from him before. This is like nothing he’s ever done.”
“This play really examines how far people will go and push to get what they want,” adds Ms. Lyons. “You’re never really sure if you’re seeing the real Karen, Bev or Steve or if it’s an act. It’s like Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Beyond strong sexual situations and a fair amount political incorrectness, “The Money Shot” also deals with issues of control and perception in the most intimate of relationships — issues that even the two couples haven’t yet sorted out.
“When I read the script, I realized you can make this a total yuck fest, but there are so many opportunities to push the relationships among all of them, not just the couples, and to explore who these people really are,” she says. “They wear a cloak… and sometimes that’s scary.”
Those cloaks often have to do with relationships. While Bev is proud to be a lesbian and wants everyone to know it, Karen, who was previously married to a man, isn’t quite as vocal about portraying the nature of their relationship to the outside world. That adds tension to the situation.
Meanwhile, Steve, who is in his 50s, has had undergone some cosmetic procedures and claims be in his 40s. Missy, his wife, is 24 and under his complete control.
“I want to say it’s misogynistic and ego driven,” says Ms. Lyons. “He’s worried about her legs getting cheesy. He’s pushing her to be an actress but I don’t think she wants to be an actress.”
“I’ve directed Joe to be more unpleasant to Missy. We call him the ‘mean Steve,”’ she explains. “It’s not just that Steve is so unpleasant and controlling, but he doesn’t realize he’s being that way because he really loves her. He just thinks about women like that. The scary thing is he does treat her that way and she lets him.”
“The Money Shot” comes on the heels of SCC’s production of “God of Carnage,” which Mr. Disher directed in the fall. That play, by Yasmina Reza, is about two New York City couples who meet to discuss a nasty playground incident involving their sons. Though cultured people, their evening of civilized debate quickly devolves into a study of bad behavior as evidence of misogyny, prejudice and homophobia emerge in their arguments.
Ms. Lyons notes that despite the different settings and situations, there are similarities between the two plays which is why she and Mr. Disher felt they would be ideal for this season.
“They’re both four handers and both are about human interaction and how absurd people can be,” explains Ms. Lyons. “In ‘The Money Shot’ the characters are more self absorbed and ridiculous. It’s tinsel town, so people have to put up a front more than they do in the New York apartment setting.”
“What’s funny is the absurdity. Ridiculous and absurd people don’t know they’re ridiculous and absurd,” she adds.
While Ms. Lyons admits she was nervous about her first directing gig, she has been very pleased with the way she and the actors have collaborated in rehearsal on building the complexity of their characters.
“That’s the way it works in rehearsal. A lot of what you use is initially a mistake and you keep it or the cast tries something else,” she explains. “The whole cast did their homework. They dove into the script to do their characters justice. We want to color them and not have them be one dimensional. We really want to make them come alive.”
“It’s been such a great journey.”
“The Money Shot” runs January 19 to February 5 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 ($12 for students under 21 with ID).
Dinner theater packages are offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Plaza Café. In addition, on Thursday, January 26 at 5:30 p.m. the cultural center and Rogers Memorial Library will offer a one night dinner theater package at Little Red. The cost of all packages is $59 and includes a three course dinner and a ticket to the show. To reserve, call the cultural center at (631) 287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.