Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Film director Nick Cohen tells his story from growing up in a household of famous wannabe artists to trying to find his way in Hollywood, motivated by his mentor’s insistence he knows how to get an Oscar.
Nick Cohen learns two things as a young boy when a Hollywood producer comes for dinner. One is that the only person worth hiring for his Superman film is Marlon Brando, because he is the only actor with two Oscars. The other is that even though this producer says he will give Nick the role of Superboy, “People don’t always do what they say they’re gonna do”. This not the first time Nick is let down by a smooth talker, nor is it the first time desire for the Academy Awards effects his life. Nick grows up to be a film director, and when his dad’s friend Jerry, also a producer, tells him he should move to LA and live with him in exchange for doing a bit of housework, Nick jumps at the chance. At first he is enraptured with the sun, the lifestyle, and Jerry’s promise that he will reveal the formula for winning an Oscar. As you might expect, the things Nick wants and what others want from him are two very different things, and he must navigate what it means to be a nice guy in a bad town.
Cohen plays an impressive array of characters, from his own parents to the Mexican model of the Oscar statuette Emilio Fernandez. A highlight is the pitch-perfect greasy producers whose portrayals were accurate enough to make my skin crawl. The version he plays of himself is a more grounded and gentler character, making the bombastic and fast-talking inhabitants of LA that much more grating. The direction has a comic bookish, manic martial-arts feel about it that echoes Cohen’s established childhood interests and keeps the plot moving nicely. The light and sound design work very well at magically turning the cavernous vaults of the Underbelly Cowgate venue into the sunny beaches of Southern California.
Nick’s dealings with the slimy creatures of Los Angeles are well told, and many of them will feel familiar to those of us who have spent time in the arts. Most of them accomplish forming the narrative of his own experiences, though there is one instance that felt hard to come back from. Towards the halfway point, Nick meets with a producer known for having relationships with young girls. Girls he plies with drugs for sex. “Younger girls, stronger drugs,” is what gets him off. When he is done with them, they often have to leave the state. Nick is distressed by this, but otherwise continues to try to convince himself to date the same producer’s daughter in order to secure funding for his short film. The opportunity to elaborate on his feelings and justifications, or even possible complicity through staying quiet and continuing to try to work around this producer, is missed on a deeper level. Once we catch a glimpse of that darkness, the rest of Nick’s trials feel comparatively mundane, especially as many of those are trials he ultimately decides not to go through with.
As the show stands now, events mostly happen to and around Nick, but he stays the guy who is Too Nice for LA. A deeper investigation of these themes as they relate to him and how they changed him, coupled with his superb character acting, would be an award-winning combination.