A Special Devoid of Specialness

 By Ernest Kearney  —  Before we move into the review of Playwright Andrew Osborne’s Special directed by Kerr Seth Lordygan at Theatre of Note, you should know of the inspiration behind this production: the legendary, or infamous, The Star Wars Holiday Special. 


It is hard to imagine the firestorm this musical sci-fi holiday variety show rained down on both Lucas Films and CBS at its airing in 1978.  It is even harder to imagine what the creative team behind the effort had in mind when they undertook it.


George Lucas entered into the project with less than halfhearted enthusiasm but was enticed by the hope of a new line of Kenner action figures based on the story line.  He had also wanted to do a “film just about Wookiees, nothing else,” and this seemed the perfect occasion.


His story line was pretty straight forward: The Millennium Falcon struggles to avoid capture by Imperial forces as Hans Solo and Chewbacca attempt to get back to the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk in time to celebrate “Life Day.”  Meanwhile Chewy’s family, wife Malla, son Lumpy and aged father Itchy, try to carry on as best they can.  Malla, in her concern for her furry mate, contacts others of the rebel alliance allowing cameo appearances by Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, while Darth Vader ** writer's hand** and Obi-Wan Kenobi are brought into the story via archival footage.


Things started to fall apart rather quickly, however.  While Lucas envisioned an segue between the original Star Wars and the second installment in his grand six episode scheme, CBS just wanted another holiday variety show.


A group of writers were brought on the project including Pat Proft of Naked Gun fame and the iconic six-time Emmy Award winning Bruce Vilanch.


A USC classmate of Lucas was tapped as the project’s director, but soon jumped ship after disagreements with the producers.


A new director, Steve Binder, was brought in and his only contact with Lucas came in the form of a ”Wookiee Bible” compiled by Lucasfilm explaining the  furry space species’ culture.  With Binder, whose specialty was lavish TV specials featuring the likes of Patti LaBelle and Barry Manilow, the project took an unexpected jump in hyperspace to the universe of schmaltz.  Now Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher found themselves in the same galaxy as Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman.


With the injection of the veteran television personalities into the story, a surreal gloss was added to the whole enterprise.


It starts when Saun Dann (Carney), a family friend, arrives at the Chewbacca domicile with Life Day gifts in hand.  For Itchy he brings a computer disc with a performance by Diahann Carroll singing “This Minute Now.”


Other weirdness follows including a cooking show with Gormaanda (Korman as  a multi-armed alien Julia Childs in drag no less).  There are additional musical interludes, including Ackmena (Arthur) proprietor of the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet Tatoonine singing “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” (set to the Cantina Band theme) to a love smitten alien (Korman again) and a music video by Jefferson Starship playing “Light the Sky On Fire.”  The special concludes with Chewbacca back in the arms of his loved ones as Princess Leia (Fisher) gives a short recital on the meaning of Life Day ending with her singing a celebratory song set to the tune of the Star Wars theme.


It has been called the “the worst two hours of television ever,” with George Lucas publicly stating, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”


So now you know.


Frankly, I had high hopes for this outing at Theatre of Note, and those hopes suffered a similar fate to that of Alderaan, Princess Leia’s home planet.


Playwright Osborne and Director Lordygan have managed to produce a show about a debacle that out-debacles the debacle itself.


What was lacking here in excess was an infusion of originality (Osborne’s department) and panache (Lordygan’s division.)



In short, it was theatre devoid of everything theater does best.  Now I know and respect the good people at Theatre of Note, and know the work of some of those involved here.  Because of that respect, I will name no names, and will place the blame for this production where I believe it belongs, at the feet of its writer and director.


Considering the source material, that this show was not funny is a shame.

That it was not interesting is a sin. As it happens, Bruce Vilanch was in the audience the night I attended, and I was told he was an unofficial adviser to the show.


The best advice would have been, not to do it.


** writer's hand ** Originally James Earl Jones was not given credit for his part in Star Wars, in the special, for the first time he was identified as providing Darth Vader’s voice.


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Runs through now through January 13, 2019


Theatre of Note

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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