This week I attended performances of two off-Broadway shows: "Knickerbocker," part of the PublicLab series at the Public Theater, and "Picked" at the Vineyard Theatre. While each of these plays had their strengths and weaknesses, both ultimately struck me as entertaining and thought-provoking.
[I've been requested to hold my comments about Knickerbocker until after the official opening.]
"Picked," written by Christopher Shinn and directed by Michael Wilson with, essentially, no sets, just some prop couches moved around in different configurations, also focuses on a central character, Kevin (played by Michael Stahl-David), a handsome young actor who is thrust into the lead role in a major motion picture by John (played by Mark Blum), a film-maker who is bent on exploiting the inner psyche of his star as a source of the plotting of his film. At first, the idea is that Kevin will play two characters, the hero and the villain, but as work on the film develops, John decides he needs to cast a different actor as the villain, Nick (played by Tom Lipinski). The other characters are Kevin's wife, Jen (played by Liz Stauber), and a female character variously playing the casting director or a TV personality (played by Donna Hanover).
Over the course of the play, Kevin starts out a neophyte actor who is willing to submit totally to John's needs and desires to construct his film. Through the course of the play, his relationship with his wife is affected, adversely, by the way his emotional life is developing in response to his new experiences. The injection of Nick into the scene creates ambiguity, as it appears for a time that Kevin and Nick are bonding in way that might cross some lines – although the bonding isn't consummated and ultimately Nick becomes so panicky that he acts strangely at the premiere of the film and disappears from Kevin's life, even though they had committed to staying in touch. Nick's experience with the film turns him off sex — at least with his wife — and that relationship falls apart. Nick also finds that even though the film is a success, he receives no offers for new work, and his acting career essentially falls apart. I don't think there are any plot spoilers here — at least, I've not discussed anything that couldn't be discerned from the Times review that appeared when the play opened several weeks ago. The point of the show isn't the plotting so much as the development of Kevin through various psychological states and interactions with the other characters.
Stahl-David is a very attractive man who anchors the play very well, although I found his constant smiling through much of the first act to be a bit strange. He sobers up in the second. I agree with Brantley in the Times that the first act is the stronger of the two, and the second winds down and tends to peter out at the end. Indeed, when it ended, it seemed to me that it had just stopped without any real resolution… just sort of faded away, leaving the audience a bit non-plussed.