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[whitespace] Mizlansky/Zilinsky
Pat Kirk

L.A. Story: Larry Block, left, teaches Vidal Perez how to be a player in 'Mizlansky/Zilinsky.'

The patois trumps the plot in 'Mizlansky/Zilinsky'

By Anne Gelhaus

JUDGING FROM Mizlansky/Zilinsky or "schmucks," playwright Jon Rabon Baitz is the David Mamet for L.A. He has the same ear for regional patois, and his intricate, rapid-fire wordplay is decidedly more interesting than the plot he weaves it through. Baitz himself has said that when he pulled his script out of mothballs after 13 years to rework it for a recent New York run, he realized that there was no "there" there in terms of story. He wrote the play as an homage to a movie producer he worked for in the early '80s, a middle-aged man with a string of B-movies behind him who sold tax shelters on the side. The character, Davis Mizlansky, is the embodiment of the "greed is good" era, particularly as played by Larry Block in the San José Repertory Theatre's current production.

Through Block's frantic, funny portrayal, it's easy to trace Mizlansky's path from a Roger Cormanesque producer who cranked out titles like LSD Mama in the late '60s and early '70s to a has-been who's seen his niche in Hollywood overtaken by big-budget blockbusters. Making money is important to Mizlansky, but what really drives him is making the deal. As his partner, Miles Zilinsky (Peter Van Norden), points out, he's addicted to the process, and although Block plays this addiction primarily for laughs, he also manages to create a fascinating character study in the process.

Given this lightweight context, the play's fleshed-out plot points seem a necessary evil, a hook on which to hang its dexterous verbal sparring matches and insider references to the L.A. Basin's physical and social landscape. Since Mizlansky has sold out in every other way, it comes as no great shock that he's willing to overlook a potential client's antisemitism. And since his world is populated primarily by men, it's no surprise when Zilinsky accuses him of latent homosexuality. These supposed revelations are more interesting when they're still subtext, unseen but tacitly acknowledged.

Zilinsky is also more interesting before he actually appears in the second act, although Van Norden does everything he can to make his character a worthy foil for Mizlansky. The confrontation between the two partners doesn't live up to the anticipation created by the first-act buildup, and even when the play's focus supposedly shifts to Zilinsky, Mislansky still occupies center stage through sheer force of his personality. Playwright Baitz would have done well to leave the two men alone to hash out their differences and put the social commentary aside. The witty, cutting satire and character development in the first act could have held its own through to the second without a dramatic storyline to carry it.

Mizlansky/Zilinsky or "schmucks" plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Wednesday, Oct. 7, at noon, through Oct. 11, at the Sobrato Auditorium, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $16-$32. (408/291-2255)

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From the October 1-7, 1998 issue of Metro.

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