Bonnie Goldberg

The German/Jewish novelist Franz Kafka, whose works were mainly ignored in his lifetime, would seem a strange source of material for a current play on Broadway. Known for his themes of hopelessness and absurdity, however, one might see the method that playwright Theresa Rebeck found in making a newly discovered Kafka play the skeleton upon which she fleshes out her new comedy ”The Understudy.”


Until Sunday, September 18, TheaterWorks in downtown Hartford will be holding rehearsals for “The Understudy,” a comic look at what it means to be permanently in the wings, word perfect and primed, for a chance at the big time.


Enter from stage left, Harry, not your most eager and grateful actor, so capably neurotic in the hands of Andrew Benator. He doesn’t have a lot of respect for the muscle bound actor he is “covering” for, an action star who commands big bucks but has little legitimate stage quality. Harry, in his opening monologue, manages to disparage the man, Jake, his megabucks movie and the acting profession in total.


For his part, Jake, a manly Matthew Montelongo, is also waiting for his major break through role but is willing to pay his dues and give Kafka a fighting chance. As the two men meet on stage for the first time, it is all stage manager Roxanne can do to prevent them from coming to blows.


Poor Roxanne, a wonderfully exasperated Jayne Paterson, has a lot to contend with on her theatrical plate: her star and his understudy have an instant dislike for each other, the understudy is presuming to rewrite the script, they both are eating the props, an unseen light, sound and scenery tech is stoned on drugs and she discovers the understudy has changed his name and is really her ex-fiancee who jilted her at the altar.What is a girl to do for an encore? Rob Ruggiero mines the play for maximum laughter at the expense of the art of show business.


For tickets ($40-62.50), call TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Come early and enjoy the art gallery upstairs, courtesy of the Hartford.


The show must go on, unless it doesn’t, in this comic behind the curtains look at theater, passions, egos, wounded hearts, warts and all.

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