THE UNDERSTUDY at Westport Country Playhouse
If you love plays about the theatre, you'll love Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy, now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse through September 1. And even if you don't, you'll love the fact that this production is extremely well-done, from the high-octane acting to the snappy direction to the sets and lighting.
The show starts off with a bang (literally) as actor Harry (Eric Bryant) delivers a long stream-of-consciousness monologue about his lack of commercial success in his field. It's worse for him because he was hired as the understudy to "talent-free" action star movie star Jake (Brett Dalton) in a newly discovered Kafka play that combines The Trial and The Castle. "I'm not bitter," he says. "OK, I am a little bitter but that doesn't change facts."
That fact keeps coming up as Jake reminds him of the money he and the unseen Bruce, the Kafka play's real star earn. Jake rubs it in that people come to the theatre to stars, to which Harry replies, "All I see are movie stars movie stars movie stars. It's like a disease. I didn't mean disease. Maybe more like pathology. Or ongoing cultural disaster."
The plot thickens when stage manager, Roxanne (Andrea Syglowski) shows up and realizes that the understudy is none other her ex-fiancé. He auditioned under a different name, but explains that everyone still calls him Harry. Needless to say, the breakup was not mutual. "Yes, I still have the dress," says Roxanne. "It's hanging like a wound on a hanger."
Not seen is Roxanne's loopy sound and light person, who keeps missing cues and sending the wrong sets during the rehearsals, all while Roxanne is trying to deal with her ex-fiancé's attitude and immaturity. She snidely explains it to him in terms of theatre. "Bruce is Richard III. Jake is Henry V. You are spear carrier #7." It doesn't help that Jake is trying to get legitimacy as an actor by doing a play no one understands or likes. There is enough paranoia, isolation, fear, and other Kafkaesque themes in The Understudy, and it is interesting to watch the characters try to interpret. Roxanne believes that more women should be cast in important roles such as the judge. And the two actors come to admire each other's work.
Bryant, Dalton, and Syglowski are all terrific and credible in their roles. Tara Rubin Casting always manages to get the right performers for each production at the Westport Country Playhouse. David Kennedy's direction was flawless. He makes it seem so easy. Andrew Boyce's set, Mathew Richards's lighting, and Fitz Patton's sound design were seamless with the story and direction. Choreographer Noah Racey's his funny dance at the end of the ply within the play was the cherry and the sauce on the whipped cream of a delectable dessert.