The Understudy – Review by Susan Granger

Playwright Theresa Rebeck pens an amusing ‘backstage’ comedy, revolving around an understudy rehearsal of a Broadway play by Franz Kafka that stars a highly popular, A-list Hollywood action hero. It could also be called The Actor’s Lament.

Striding down the aisle and ascending the stage, Harry (Eric Bryant) identifies himself as the titular, newly hired understudy.

After suffering far too many rejections, he’s admittedly bitter about the powerlessness of actors in show business and particularly indignant about working with snide, condescending Jake (Brett Dalton), a B-list action-movie performer doing a supporting role in this two-hander.

Supervising the rehearsal so that the actors can run the lines/blocking is the frustrated stage-manager, Roxanne (Andrea Syglowski). She was summarily dumped by Harry six years earlier, just two weeks before their wedding.

Understandably irritable and resentful, Roxanne quit being an actress for steadier managerial employment. Her exasperation is intensified by the utter ineptitude of Laura, the (unseen) light, sound and scenery tech who’s usually stoned but able to hang onto her job because her uncle is an IATSE (union) official.

Adroitly maximizing each laugh line delivered by his excellent, superbly cast trio, director David Kennedy relishes the absurdly ridiculous idea of an incomprehensibly existential, three-hour Kafka drama being a hit on Broadway just because of the marquee value of its megabucks star. And the concluding ‘dance’ captures the soulful essence of this eccentric flight of fancy.

FYI: Born in Prague, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German-Jewish visionary whose works reflected the anxieties and alienation felt by many in 20th century Europe.

Adding immeasurably to the manic mayhem are designers Andrew Boyce (scenic), Matthew Richards (lighting), Fitz Patton (sound), Noah Racey (choreography), Michael Rossmy (fight) and Maiko Matsushima (costumes).

Performed without an intermission, it’s just too long. Many members of the audience were visibly squirming in their seats after the 100-minute mark.

Nevertheless, it’s well worth a visit to the Westport Country Playhouse to see “The Understudy,” on-stage through Saturday, September 1st. Call 203-227-4177 or go online to www.westportplayhouse.org.

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