By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Atlanta’s Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Artistic Director Grant McGowen’s new play “Let’s Make It,” which has extended its run through March 30.  Already known as a director, actor and teacher, Mr. McGowen has added “playwright” to his résumé and has written a powerful, taut romantic drama about a young married couple in show business.

Of course it’s become rather a cliché that “show business marriages don’t last,” and Hollywood has created a lucrative cottage industry of TV shows like “Entertainment Tonight” based largely on this premise.

But what Mr. McGowen has done here, aided by two fine, attractive actors (Heather Rule and Barrett Doyle), is humanize a situation and make us care about two people whose hopes and ambitions for themselves as artists begin to clash with being and remaining a married couple.

Brandon (Mr. Doyle) is an aspiring filmmaker whose career has yet to get off the ground. Anessa, his wife (Ms. Rule), is starting to make it as a film actress, although mainly in “B” pictures which Brandon, when they quarrel, tends to denigrate as approaching soft porn.  They live, incidentally, in a cozy little New York apartment (courtesy of scenic designer Kyle Ankiel).

Why would they quarrel?  Brandon, unbeknownst to Anessa, has written a screenplay which he views as a possible breakthrough for himself as a screenwriter.  He presents it to her as an anniversary present, partly because he wants her to star in it.  But there’s more:  The screenplay turns out to be pretty much a real-life autobiography of Anessa, who has suffered from sexual and drug abuse.  In addition, Brandon informs her that a studio (Lifetime) has already “greenlighted” the script—on the  condition that Anessa star in it.

Need I say that Anessa is not pleased.  Their union is already marred by truculence, but now it’s a full scale war with the stakes being Brandon’s career, Anessa’s emotional stability, and their marriage.  She calls his screenplay “an uninteresting piece of crap” and cannot understand how he could think she’d want to relive her life this way—and on film, forever.  As often happens in couples, they know each other’s most vulnerable points.

This is a two-character 80 minute play.  Two-character plays are rare because they’re difficult to pull off; the last one I saw that really knocked me out was Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” and that was written 50 years ago (that’s not when I saw it, thank you).  Needless to say, the actors must be first-rate and perfectly cast.

In “Let’s Make It” we are fortunate because they are.  Barrett Doyle and Heather Rule bring total conviction, powerful talent, and excellent chemistry to the play.  Playwright/director Grant McGowen has a fine gift for believable, fluid dialogue.  And he guides his actors with care and sensitivity.

The ending is a bit provocative and questionable.  At the end of the last scene my companion that evening asked me if that was the end; I said, “Oh, no.  Not yet.”  But it was.  These things are a matter of personal taste.  By the way, I loved Will Dove’s background videos.

Meanwhile, Pinch ‘N’ Ouch continues to grow as perhaps Atlanta’s finest “Off Broadway” company.  We’ve mentioned in these pages that Mr. McGowen has a gift for attracting talent.  Support this company before they get grand like—never mind; my lips are sealed.

For more information, visit pnotheatre.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.