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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 5
The Understudy deserves top billing
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The Understudy deserves top billing

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE UNDERSTUDY
SEATTLE PUBLIC THEATER
Through February 17


Seattle Public Theater has chosen another play by Theresa Rebeck. The company recently gave us Mauritius in a tightly directed production. Now, The Understudy, a three-hander with a terrific ensemble cast, has been directed with a sure hand by Kelly Kitchens. It's a comedy with deeply relatable undertones: Aren't we all understudying someone, or wanting to achieve more in our lives?

Mike Dooly plays Jake, a stereotypical film action hero who is dipping his toe into live theater on Broadway. John Ulman shows up as his understudy, Harry, and they are about to go through the one rehearsal the understudy ever gets, called a put-in, before the understudy goes on in place of his/her main actor. Helping with the put-in is the stage manager, Roxanne (Brenda Joyner).

The play is great fun, starting when Harry enters with a stage gun, pretending to be in a shoot-'em-up, rather than the deeply serious Kafka play they are presenting. Harry makes fun of Jake's film dialogue, which Harry thinks is stupid and easy to say.

But it turns out that Jake is far more than a stereotype, and much more eager to demonstrate solid acting chops than to act the asshole Harry thinks him. And things get complicated when it turns out that Harry is the ex-fiancé of Roxanne and disappeared without telling her why, years ago. Roxanne ended her acting career at that point, becoming a stage manager, presumably because it provided a more stable income.

FILM VS. STAGE
Jake makes a lot of money in films, but he is still a B-level movie actor, superseded by his Broadway actor partner, the unseen Bruce, who is an A-level movie star and whose name drives the box-office attendance. Harry can act rings around Jake but is just an understudy, never having broken through in films, having no particular box-office appeal. Roxanne gets a chance to show the audience how great an actor she is, although she's had to choose a different way to earn a living.

In some ways, the play sounds like an insider revelation of what movies and acting on Broadway are like. But Rebeck has more to say than that. Certainly she reflects reality of Hollywood movies and translation to Broadway theater box office. There is income disparity to consider. There are bits of a (possibly pretend) Kafka play inserted that provide moments of serious poetic contemplation. And toward the end, when it looks like all is for naught, she asserts that the 'doing' is the most important of all. Do what you love, even if the rest doesn't follow.

Technical aspects of the play are well-managed by Richard Schaefer (scenic and lighting design) and Dustin Morache (sound design). Fun is had with a booth operator who has her own issues. But it's the trio of actors, each solidly connected to his or her character, who keep the evening riveting and entertaining.

This is a guaranteed evening of pleasure. Do make plans to see it. For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call (206) 524-1300.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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