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Mitch Albom tries too hard to find a 'Winner'

A scene from the Long Island premiere of

A scene from the Long Island premiere of Mitch Albom's "And the Winner Is . . ." at Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst, opening tomorrow night on April 24, 2010. Photo Credit: None/

There are no winners in "And the Winner Is . . . " Not even the guy clutching the Oscar. Nor the author, Mitch Albom, who's been on a winning streak since stretching his sportswriting career into bestselling books with a moral ("Tuesdays With Morrie," "Five People You Meet in Heaven" and currently "Have a Little Faith").

Albom, who still covers sports for the Detroit Free Press, became a playwright with his adaptation of "Morrie." In "Winner," he imagines the coveted gold statuette as something akin to a Super Bowl trophy. Some guys would sell their souls for one.

That's what Tyler Johnes has done. The "h" in Jones is an affectation. The actor's real name is Jacob Steinberg. His soon-to-be ex-wife still calls him Jake. He's asked her to join him in Hollywood for his big night, along with his bimbo girlfriend and big-screen rival in a series of pulp hits called "Chippencops" - gendarmes disguised as bachelorette party strippers.

In a calculated career move, Tyler has made an art film, which garners his first Oscar nomination. But he dies the night before the awards. When he "awakes" in a seedy Irish pub, the bartender - actually the gatekeeper to heaven - informs him he'll be stuck there for 400 years, doing time in purgatory before moving on to a better place, glimpsed just outside the window on Doug Lillie's foreboding set.

Promising to make amends with his wife, Tyler persuades the gatekeeper to let him attend the Oscars show.

Derek McLaughlin plays Tyler with unrepentant full-of-him-selfishness. Yet, as directed by Glen Beck, we like him, perhaps because his colleagues are one-dimensional louts - from his text-obsessed agent (played with clueless distraction by Bob Lingner) to his "Chippencop" partner (hunky Michael Goodwin) and brainless co-starring babe (a role that wastes talented Jennifer Hope).

Carolyn Popadin as Tyler's wife earnestly plays the sympathetic victim while Frank Freeman as purgatory's barkeep dispenses wisdom instead of whiskey.

The trouble with "Winner" is that its moral certitude is as predictable as an Oscar acceptance speech.

Many from the BroadHollow Theater Company, which formerly managed Studio Theater, continue to work with Studio's new producer, Bob O'Neill. Let's hope they find a winning play next time.


WHAT Long Island premiere of Mitch Albom's "And the Winner Is ..."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, at Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $14 to $16, $20 at the door; studiotheatreli .com, 631-226-8400

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