The golden age of Hollywood. Bruce Graham certainly knew how to choose a snazzy setting when he wrote SOMETHING INTANGIBLE, where art clashes with money and the lengths you can be expected to go for family are measured.
The play is loosely based on and full of details from the life of Walt and Roy Disney: Tony (Chris Anthony) and Dale Wiston (Anthony Marsala). Tony wants to create a masterpiece that will convince people he is more than just a cartoonist; figuring out the funding for the elaborate project is left to his brother Dale. In other words, Tony is the workaholic artist while Dale is the accountant and family man. To cut some expositional corners, throughout the movie-making process Dale explains the backgrounds behind the sibling dynamic and personal issues to his psychiatrist (Susan Mattson), who just happens to be a movie lover herself.
There is a lot going on in this play. While the conflict between art and money is an intriguing one, the decision to use the Disney brothers as models and use overt references to their lives distracts from the meat of the play and its themes. The glamorous setting and famous real-life parables are perhaps the playwright’s own attempt to accomplish what drives Tony as well: doing something with artistic gravitas that’s also fun to watch. Yet apart from the fun of a glamorous setting, I’m not sure what is accomplished by the distance created when a story takes place so far in the past and uses an almost mythical icon of popular culture as the main character.
Despite the distractions, SOMETHING INTANGIBLE has interesting things to say about the need to reinvent your identity or as Tony puts it, “rewrite your obituary”, as all the characters have unique struggles with reinventing themselves. The dialogue at its best is fast, witty, and fun to listen to, particularly since Chris Anthony’s Tony is a charismatic dictator with just the right twinkle in his eye while Anthony Marsala’s Dale is funny as the purposefully dull contrast, and he also puts to good use the few times he has the wittier line.
The fine balance in Tony’s character between a genius with truly dislikeable moments and his charming creative energy goes to the heart of the play’s sibling relationship: Dale’s life is happier and more content, but Tony is so extraordinary it’s easy for the audience to identify with Dale’s simultaneous envy, admiration, and pity of Tony. This ties in nicely with the idea of art and money as opposing entities, but doesn’t dig in quite deep enough for the play to be as extraordinary as its main character. [Stagecrafters Theater, 8130 Germantown Avenue] January 30-February 15, 2015; thestagecrafters.org.