Plays For Party People
Published November 10, 2009
I was running a little behind schedule in getting to the 24 Hours Plays Benefit last night in time for an 8 PM curtain, but so were the starry lot of performers. By the time I got to American Airlines Theater, only a few autograph hounds were still lurking outside on 42nd Street, poised for a glimpse of a Crudup or an Aniston.
Presented by Mont Blanc, 24 Hour Plays on Broadway is an annual one-night-only event—this being its ninth year—that benefits the Urban Arts Partnership, which supports arts education in public high schools across the city. And this year featured the most stacked lineup yet. There are almost too many big-name actors to run down in a single breath, but here it goes: Anthony Mackie, Billy Crudup, Eva Mendes, John Krasinski, Rosario Dawson, Julia Stiles, Jennifer Aniston, Rachel Dratch, Emmy Rossum, Rosie Perez, Brooke Shields, and a trio of power actor couples–Ashton and Demi, Liev and Naomi, David and Amber. (Well, OK. Cross and Tamblyn, FYI.)
The crowd wasn’t lacking, either. It was hard to miss Emmy Rossum’s beau, Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. And Puffy made a late, great entrance. (Perhaps to support Mackie, who portrayed a young Tupac in the Biggie biopic last year.) He was wearing a fine gray suit, with girlfriend Cassie by his side. Her dress was likely excellent, but I only noticed her half-shaved head. Anyway, I made room for Diddy and Co. to squeeze in next to me. Less than 90 seconds later, he had managed to wrangle better seats, and my new neighbors absconded before I could conjure the perfect ice-breaker with which to charm them. (More winningly, the man behind me picked the moment of their exit to yell, “Sit down!” Diddy looked at him, unsure how to react. “Who, me?” he asked the man. “No, no, not you,” he said, then added, in a voice I felt could’ve been more sufficiently jokey, “Well, yeah. You too.” I could see Diddy’s confusion deepening. He left without further comment, and behind me I heard the man’s companion say, “I’m glad you talk to Diddy the same way you talk to me.”) Then the lights went down. The 24 Hour Plays format is this: the six directors, six writers, crew, and cast of 24 get together to produce an original short play in under 24 hours. So at 10 PM this past Sunday night, all involved met up to produce six plays of 10 minutes each. All of the plays were funny, and a few were tear-rolling; two featured its cast breaking into song; all involved hysterics of some sort. Claudie Blakley, Emmy Rossum, Rosie Perez, and Rachel Dratch were women on the verge of nervous breakdowns at various le Pain Quotidien cafes across Manhattan—all due to the smarmy ways of boytoy Billy Crudup. In Theresa Rebeck’s “Pen Play,” Jeremy Sisto, Gaby Hoffman, Julia Stiles, and Demi Moore tackled death and product placement in a tongue-in-cheek shill for event sponsors Mont Blanc—pushed to the comic extreme, in a 30 Rock way. Fisher Stevens played the bed bug-sniffing dog of exterminator Liev Schreiber in Tina Howe’s “Second Option”; its sheer outrageousness drew the biggest laughs before intermission.
After half-time, we were treated to the most lovable cast of the night: Tamblyn and Naomi Watts were neuroses-addled New Yorkers; Krasinski was a dopier version of the lovably dopey character he always inhabits; and Sam Rockwell played a five-year-old in that slightly sick (but appealing) way he has.
They saved the best for last. In Stephen Belber’s “Ramen Noodle,” David Cross and Jennifer Aniston played two lonely strangers trying to make a connection, while Mackie and Brooke Shields were the delightfully dirty devil’s advocates egging them on. (The cleanest line in the play might’ve been, “So the reason you’re single is not because of your hairy balls?”). Then the entire A-list cast came out for a round of standing applause. It struck me that coordinating the schedules of this many movie stars for an entire 24-hour period was a minor producing miracle. There was an afterparty at the China Club with the requisite red-carpet posing and even more celebs (Woody Harrelson popped in for a bit), but the real event had passed by, and all too quickly.