A Savvy Show-Biz Comedy

THEATER: REVIEW

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

PRICE OF FAME Play by Charles Grodin. Directed by Gloria Muzio. Starring Mr. Grodin. At the Roundabout Theatre through July 8. WHO better than Charles Grodin, the playwright, should appreciate and respond to the distinctive comic style of Charles Grodin, the actor? ``Price of Fame,'' a slight but savvy show-biz comedy, provides the answer.

The action takes place in the posh mobile home (outfitted with all the amenities by designer David Jenkins) that serves as dressing room and retreat for Roger Carstairs (Mr. Grodin), a Hollywood star whose aura has begun to dim. As the play opens, Roger is complaining that the New York ads for his latest film feature his equine costar. Early reports indicate that the movie is opening ``soft.''

The star's present project, the only one he has been offered of late, is a Spielberg-type fantasy in which he shares the screen with a creature from outer space. Having sketched in the background, playwright Grodin introduces attractive Karen Ringstead (Lizbeth Mackay), a feature writer assigned by her editor to do a hatchet job on the unsuspecting star for Vanity Fair magazine. The predictable course of their relationship is interrupted by the day-to-day business of moviemaking.

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As Roger, Mr. Grodin draws a mostly comic portrait from the vantage point of long observation. The actor's dry understatement, casual way with a comic line, relaxed air, and a stare that speaks volumes (familiar to those who have seen him on the Johnny Carson show) all serve the purposes of his dramatist alter ego. Miss Mackay personifies the brisk yet apparently still susceptible career woman of the '90s.

Director Gloria Muzio keeps the traffic flowing briskly in and out of Roger's dressing room. The sampling of Hollywood types includes Jeannie Berlin as a fellow player in the science-fiction opus, W.J. Paterson as the unit's cheerful gofer, Joseph R. Sicari as a gag-a-minute makeup man, Sam Groom as the hostile editor, Michael Ingram as the nervous ``voice'' of the gremlin, and Jace Alexander as Roger's temporarily alienated son.

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