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Tinseltown Terrorism

Steve Capasso and Linda Gunther
Steam Cleaning: Steve Capasso and Linda Gunther generate some illicit heat as forbidden lovers in Ralph Peduto's "Photo Finish--a Hollywood Romance," now playing at the Actors' Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz.

Playwright Ralph Peduto tackles the twin demons of Hollywood and domestic violence

By Sarah Phelan

RALPH PEDUTO AIN'T no stranger to danger. He's taken plenty of risks in his career and knows more about Tinsel Town than he probably oughta. What's truly refreshing about his writing in Photo Finish is that he has the balls--not to mention the ability--to tell it like it is for an older woman trying to make it in that "karma-free zone," aka Hollywood.

It's a shocker of a piece, not so much because it tells of need, greed and the perils of friendship, but because it moves into the emotionally charged territory surrounding domestic violence and, at the same time, follows the lives of two women who are the antithesis of traditional stereotypes of "desirable women."

Not that Linda (Linda Gunther) isn't beautiful, but she's definitely older than your average wannabe starlet breaking into the business. What's more, she's taken the traditionally unacceptable step of abandoning her husband and two kids to follow her dream of becoming an actress.

As for the other leading lady, Sumoko (Holly Day), she's an outrageously outspoken survivor who dares to be different by dressing as sleazily as she pleases despite her advancing age. Pushily trading haircuts for backsnaps, she runs both her business and her boyfriend with equally foul-mouthed aplomb, Sumoko's the kinda gal that doesn't think twice about grabbing Linda straight off the bus from Middle America to milk her for all she's worth--including charging her for substandard headshots taken by her apparently subservient lover, Wilfred (Richard Salvadia).

To complicate matters further, the guilt-ridden Linda is already in the grip of Tom (Beno Chapman), a gun-toting psychopath who's using Linda's past to manipulate her present. As the play unfolds, she meets with Hank (Steven Capasso), a commercial actor and seasoned bit-player, and together they rehearse a steamy scene about adulterous love in Sumoko's apartment.

Then things turn horribly and hilariously ugly in a classic case of artus interruptus. Suddenly it's a question of who's using whom, with Linda characteristically blaming herself for the ensuing mayhem until a friend helps her to unhook from this cycle of self-destructive behavior.

Suspenseful, funny and refreshingly real, Photo Finish not only sketches out Hollywood's ego-driven emotional wasteland, but also pencils in the dangerously real dynamics that fuel domestic violence. This courageous storyline alone--along with some fine acting, memorable one-liners and comic moments--make it a play definitely worth watching.

And if you've ever wondered, even for one moment, why women stay in abusive relationships, then go see this play. Hopefully, it'll be an eye opener, and you'll come away with insights as to why women take this kinda shit, as well as why some men give it to them in the first place.

After all, it's about time we had some answers.

Photo Finish--a Hollywood Romance written and directed by Ralph Peduto, plays Thu.­Sat. (8pm) through Oct. 19 at the Actors' Theater, 1001 Center St., SC (425 PLAY).

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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