April 16, 2004





William Faulkner, still slaving away


Think screenwriters are dead in Hollywood once they pass 40? How about a hack well past the 100-year mark, still hammering away at a biblical epic on his Corona?


In Peter Lefcourt's diverting what-if scenario, "Only the Dead Know Burbank," this isn't just any literary dinosaur but none other than William Faulkner, still alive and slaving away on successive seven-year contracts with Warner Bros. dating back to 1940.


It's best not to examine this premise too closely. One can't imagine Faulkner, an inveterate outdoorsman, could be content holed up on a studio lot, or that he could survive for decades on a diet of bourbon and microwave soup.


But suspension of disbelief has its rewards here, as up-and-coming film writer Ira Krensky (Ross Benjamin) discovers when he moves into the next office. Initially irked by the drawling crank who calls himself Bill (Lawrence Pressman) and by the icy old-school secretary they share (Julie Payne), Krensky relents enough to be touched by Bill's pathos--and to be spooked by the spectacle of a creative soul stranded in film-studio purgatory.


Director Peter Bonerz keeps the show snapping across Tom Buderwitz's realistic cutaway set, but he doesn't skimp on telling nuances.


Pressman imbues this fantasy Faulkner with a crusty verity, Benjamin makes a nervy foil, Payne is deliciously crisp and classy, and Adam Richman briskly nails his comic scenes as Yuri ("as in Andropov"), the lot's resident fixer.


Lefcourt's affectionate fable bears a gentle reminder to industry types who know Burbank that perhaps, once upon a time, they knew and aspired to more.

--Rob Kendt


"Only the Dead Know Burbank," the Inkwell Theater at the Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 30. $20. (323) 960-7753. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.