It's always dangerous to write about your own life, especially when you have a desire to give all the characters (you, your loved ones and your friends) a positive gloss.
This is what playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does in Based on a Totally True Story, now at convergence-continuum. The central character, Ethan, is just like the playwright: a comic book writer and playwright who is in a gay romantic relationship. He is also dealing with a crisis between his parents, and has a deal brewing for a film of his work in Hollywood.
So, yes, the title appears to be accurate. Trouble is, it's not a particularly interesting or surprising true story. The play is also saddled with structural difficulties (lots of phone conversations, lots of narration and exposition delivered directly to the audience) that director Cory Molner can't fully overcome.
Set on a brightly colored Sunday-comics stage, nerd-geek Ethan is working on a dark play involving a sea monster and two dead children (a play, by the way, that sounds a good deal more engrossing than the one at hand). He's also holding down a day job writing stories for "The Flash," a speedy comic book superhero.
But his life changes when he and his soon-to-be-boyfriend Michael meet cute in a coffee shop. Soon they are doing all sorts of adorably cute New York-ish things like going to see a 1950s French horror movie and sipping coffee at Barnes & Noble. Then they move in together.
Meanwhile a producer in Hollywood, Mary Ellen, is on the horn with Ethan pushing him to make goofy changes to his play so she can sell it to a film company. And then Ethan has to deal with his father, who announces he's fallen out of love with Ethan's mother and is seeing another woman.
On the surface, all this sounds promising. But the script almost defiantly refuses to make any of these scenarios distinctive. Mary Ellen's intrusion on the creative process is a LaLa Land trope we've seen played out a dozen times, and done much funnier. As Mary Ellen, Lisa Wiley never captures the smooth, oleaginous vibe of the hard-charging flick pusher with a heart of gold.
As Ethan's dad, Clyde Simon trots out a befuddled gruffness that works for a while, but the character is so nice one never gets a whiff of the challenging childhood Ethan claims to have endured.
Bobby Coyne plays several small roles and shines in his turn as Tyler, Ethan's energetic comic book editor. But his quick cameos as an Apple store clerk and as a bizarre employee at a video store (remember them?) are overwrought and weird instead of amusing. His final turn as a blond hunk seducing Ethan on a California beach is too abrupt and unfocused to be sexy.
The central relationship is portrayed with skill by Zac Hudak (always a superb dweeb) as Ethan and a sweet and sincere Stuart Hoffman as Michael. But it's a tepid affair with chaste kisses, quick hugs and little emotional depth. Even when there is some tension around Ethan's blossoming career, the friction generates no real sparks, just some damp fizzles.
Aguirre-Sacasa crafts a few effective laugh lines, referring to the company that Ethan works for as owned by a series of corporate entities concluding with Satan. But his play collapses at the end in a welter of aphorisms as the characters sit on stage and provide individual epilogues about how they've grown.
Ultimately the takeaway from this totally true story, which takes place over about 24 months, is that Ethan (and the author) had a totally nice two years, some totally nice relationships and it all turned out totally nice, with everyone still friends.
That's nice. But theatrically, it's not very good.
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