Written & Directed by Lenny Schwartz
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Comic book fans who revere auteurs the likes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby will be fascinated with Ditko, Lenny Schwartz’s new drama that charts the rise and fall of master illustrator Steve Ditko (1927-2018), co-creator of comics icons The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but who spent his long career in the considerable shadow of Lee, his boss and collaborator at Marvel Comics.
As played with charismatic gusto by Geoff White, the play’s ostensible villain Lee is presented as a whirlwind of mad energy and humor. The scalawag act is very appealing. Unfortunately, Ditko, the supposed main character, is played by Derek Laurendeau as a colossal pill. Lee’s refusal to give him co-creator credit on Spider-Man and other comics irks sourpuss Ditko to no end, and he spends most of the play’s 90 minutes complaining bitterly about it—even when Lee writes an open letter acknowledging Ditko’s work. Because a single word isn’t sufficiently enthusiastic, the ever-scowling Ditko rips it up.
Overlong philosophical dialogue scenes with Ditko’s spiritual mentor, Objectivist author Ayn Rand (Anne Bowman), do little to make Ditko more sympathetic. Though he emotes mightily and reveals enough backstory about the twists and turns in his career to satisfy the fans, the minute his partner/nemesis Lee enters the stage, Ditko sure enough falls right back into Lee’s shade.
Playwright Schwartz deserves credit for nimbly covering huge swaths of time and biography by smoothly changing verb tenses and allowing characters to narrate sections of their own lives. Presented the same week as ComicCon in New York City, Ditko playwright Schwartz wants to rescue a great American pop artist from falling into obscurity, but he picked one with a classically tragical flaw: he, not Lee, was his own worst enemy.
Also featuring performances by Samantha Acampora, Dave Almeida, Anne Bowman, Mindy Britto, Jonah Coppolelli, Timothy DeLisle, Chris Ferreira, Emily Lamarre, Nicholas Tvaroha and Bob Wiacek, Ditko played a limited run through Oct. 2 at Theaterlab in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan.