James Franco has been many things since he broke into the zeitgeist in TV's "Freaks and Geeks." According to the humbly simplified bio in the program for "The Long Shrift," his first New York stab at stage directing, the pop-culture polymath and Oscar-nominated movie star is "an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author." Not surprisingly, he has also been a punch line for hyperactive overachievement among celebrities.
But what he has not been, at least in my exposure to his nonstop peripatetic work, is an amateur. Or a bore. But here he is, making an ill-considered stage-directing debut in a tiny Off-Broadway theater while still doing eight performances a week in his altogether respectable Broadway debut as George in "Of Mice and Men."
"The Long Shrift" is by Robert Boswell, the esteemed novelist but novice playwright. Like Franco, Boswell is relatively new to the theater. Inexperience is obvious in both of them.
The 100-minute drama involves the effects of a rape accusation on the accused teen, his blue-collar family and, ultimately, his rich-girl accuser. We first meet his parents. Brian Lally plays the ridiculously sunny and comfy father. An excellent Ally Sheedy portrays the sharp, bitter mother with -- uh, oh -- a heart problem, who refuses to visit their kid in a Houston prison because -- another uh, oh -- he may in fact be guilty.
The folks, who sold their home to pay the kid's legal bills, are moving into a low-rent hovel with cheap paneling and a door that sticks. She cherishes an art-glass vase, the only memory of her better life. Much is made of the vase in the opening scene. Like so many ideas in this splatter theme of a script, however, the vase is pretty much forgotten in favor of evermore preposterous story lines.
The no-longer teen, Richard, is let out of his 10-year sentence after just five years because the no-longer girl (Ahna O'Reilly) recants. She wants the jail-tough man, no kidding, to come to their 10th high-school reunion as a healing gesture. She repeats uplifting self-help banalities. Then the current student-body president (Allie Gallerani) -- an airhead vixen -- talks both into hashing out the scandal as entertainment at the reunion.
Most of the dialogue is both implausible and stupefying. Intentions are sincere but crises are bogus. Scott Haze has a flinty, convincing punk menace as Richard, perhaps by pretending he is in a better play or, more likely, in one of the three movies Franco has cast him in this year.
WHAT "The Long Shrift"
WHERE Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place
INFO Tickets $20; 866-811-4111,
BOTTOM LINE A rare misstep for James Franco