Mitch Albom’s play And the Winner Is, now in an extended run at the Purple Rose through Saturday, September 24, opens as the protagonist enters purgatory. He’s a hunky actor who became a movie star / action hero and then went on to franchise a chain of male-stripper joints loosely based on the character that made him famous. Yet he has somehow managed to remain an A-list star who is up for an Academy Award on the night that he dies. (This much of the plot is so frankly ludicrous it’s hard to watch, but can you blame Albom? Let’s remember who’s governor of California.) His ex-wife still loves him, and stuck by him sleazy affair after sleazy affair, her breaking point coming when she was virtually thrust into the arms of another actor/stripper.
Our action hero gets a chance to return to earth for a few hours to find out if he won, and to make a few hasty amends for twenty years of deplorable behavior. The staging is inventive. Wayne David Parker and Jerri Doll are fun in the cartoonish parts of hyperactive agent and bimbo. The other actors seem to have searched for a little more meat in the script and seem stranded, particularly Sarab Kamoo, who plays the ex-wife.
Are Albom’s plays and novels autobiographical? They seem to have in common a protagonist who is rewarded early and abundantly for churning out popular, mediocre work and in the prime of life is arrested by some metaphysical event in which he realizes his fame has been achieved at the expense of a meaningful personal life. How could this not be autobiographical? But why would you want to tell everyone about it? Why not just let people whisper it behind your back?
Anyway, And the Winner Is is kind of like purgatory. You walk in hoping for something better, but realize it could have been a lot worse.
[Review published September 2005]