BWW Review: THE UNDERSTUDY - An Involving, Well-Paced Exposé of Actors' Egos Clashing
THE UNDERSTUDY/by Theresa Rebeck/directed by Laura Henry/Working Stage Theater/thru March 27, 2016
Playwright Theresa Rebeck's smart and witty THE UNDERSTUDY provides an intriguing vehicle for a most unsympathetic, barely working actor to vent. Fortunately, two other much more congenial characters interrupt his incessant kvetching. Laura Henry ably directs her talented cast at a fast clip making the intermission-less 90 minutes fly by.
Harry, the intermittently booked actor has arrived at an empty theatre stage waiting for the others to arrive for his understudy rehearsal of a Kafkaesque Broadway show. After numerous denials of his own bitterness towards his non-success as an actor, Harry finally admits it, along with his dislike and jealousy of his much more successful co-stars Jake and Bruce. Braxton Molinaro nails Harry's pessimism and sourness towards his own fiasco of an acting career. Molinaro's perfectly overthinks every line of dialogue and stage direction Harry's given.
Jake, the supporting star (who just happened to star in a movie that opened with a $67 million weekend) arrives mistaking Harry for either an intruder or the janitor. Max Bunzel's well cast as Jake, the macho film action hero who's not that completely full of himself to realize his place in the movie star food chain. He knows he's nowhere near the heights of Bruce, the actual star of this Broadway show. Jake's initial resistance to Harry being his understudy morphs into a surprising respect of Harry's acting techniques. In spite of Jake's success, Bunzel makes his Jake one easily roots for.
Referee-ing, controlling, or inflaming the two men quite magnificently, Magdalene Vick inhabits her integral catalyst of Roxanne, the stage manager and the jilted bride-to-be Harry left at the altar six years prior. Vick has made her Roxanne a swirling dervish of non-stop barked instructions, polite explanations, unheeded commands and unexplained heartbreak; yet still possessing strength, smarts and determination to stand on her own. Vick effortlessly conveys all of Roxanne's mash-up of emotions.
THE UNDERSTUDY's low-tech, low-budget production elements included intentionally(?) sloppy lighting with a number of lines spoken in unlit spaces. Kudos to projection designer Nathan Connelly for his clever scenic projections on set designers Ryan Wineinger and Sam Ogden upstage flats suggesting different sets.