MIZLANSKY/ZILINSKY, or “schmucks.”

Written by Jon Robin Baitz. Directed by Joe Mantello. Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City.

In 1985, 24-year-old Jon Robin Baitz made his playwriting debut in L.A. with a one-act called Mizlansky/Zilinsky. Twelve years and several acclaimed dramas later, Baitz has revised his first baby for its New York premiere. Like his other plays, it’s a verbally dazzling, impossibly fast-paced showdown between contemporary I-got-mine business ethics and whatever it takes to say no to them. Unlike his other plays, Mizlansky is set in Hollywood, so the scumbag title characters are more entertainingly pathetic, their values more venal, their pretensions higher than Robert Downey Jr. before rehab.

With the IRS nipping at their heels, two producers who never churned out anything more respectable than LSD Mama Detective are hoping to flee the country with proceeds from one last scheme, selling tax shelters to Oklahoma dentists. Among those sucked into this caper are an actor who acts in Beckett under the stars while waiting to hear if he’s landed a TV job as an intergalactic rodent, a masseuse whose one golden opportunity consisted of standing in for Jodie Foster while making Foxes, and a young gay playwright (guess who?) hired as a story editor but reduced to fetching take-out mint kasha for Davis Mizlansky, bullshit artist non pareil.

Baitz captures the underside of the Hollywood dream machine right down to the last scathing, hilarious, sad detail. Director Joe Mantello (Baitz’s lover) pulls terrific performances out of a strong cast topped by Nathan Lane as Mizlansky, whose monstrousness is humorous and human, even when warning his boy-slave, “If I catch you going to pool parties at Barry Diller’s house, you’re fired!”

The Advocate, 1998

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