Reviewed by Gregor Collins
Don’t let the showy title dissuade you…
Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson’s Head—a true story, apparently—is a deftly-acted, ingeniously directed, and deliciously meta frolic around the set of an iconic TV commercial.
According to the press release, the play is based on an actual shoot in which “a legendary film director put a movie star’s life in the hands of a very jittery prop guy.” Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Erol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) are the real life movie star and legendary director. Actor Jonathan Sale, who plays Luke Wilson, uncannily resembles him physically. He also embodies his quirky intensity and golly-gee-wilikers charm. And Morris, played by longtime character actor David Wohl, shines as the insipid egomaniac obsessed with, well, Dropping G’s on LW’s Head.
So… Luke Wilson is shooting an AT&T commercial. The plan is for the props guy (George Hampe), who’s perched atop a ladder behind a green screen above Luke Wilson waiting for his cue, to drop 500 shiny red gumballs on Wilson’s head. The gumballs, as you may suppose, represent the red dots rival company Verizon peppers all over their U.S. map indicating breadth of cell phone service.
During rehearsal the props guy dumps a bucket of gumballs on Wilson’s head, but something happens no one anticipated—Wilson gets injured, or rather claims to be injured. Wilson pleads with Morris to reduce the gumball drop count to 10, as if his life depends on it. They ultimately agree on 15. When Wilson bounces offstage to get ready for the first take, Morris pulls aside the assistant director (Ann Harada) and instructs her to drop the full 500. She has no choice but to comply.
The play doesn’t exactly put either celeb in the most favorable light. Luke Wilson is portrayed as a lovable wimp who is kind of unsociable, slightly ornery, not too bright, his boyish grin his only salvation. And if Wohl’s portrayal of Erol Morris is accurate or even partially accurate, we would all report him to the Better Business Bureau. So if you’re either Luke Wilson or Erol Morris you might have a problem with this play. Everyone else is in for a treat.
Deserving a mention alongside the front-of-the-house team is the design team that helped Director Theresa Rebeck pull off the imaginative multimedia display that consummated Playwright Rob Ackerman’s vision: Scenic Designers Christopher and Justin Swader; Lighting Designer Mary Ellen Stebbins; Sound Designer Bart Fasbender; and Video Designer Yana Biryukova.
If you’re like me and you have a few screws loose in a good way, you’ll appreciate the whimsically offbeat tone Ackerman and Rebeck have created here. In the end, while it’s literally a play about the inanity of dropping gumballs on Luke Wilson’s head, Ackerman’s droll script finds unexpected depths in its disturbing account of power in the workplace.
DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON runs from June 11-July 6, 2019, at the Mezzanine Theater at the A.R.T./New York.
Tickets $40 (Reserved Tickets); $30 (General Admission) and $25 (Student/Senior/Union Members), available at TheWorkingTheater.org, or by calling Ovationtix at 866-811-4111