Westport Country Playhouse
“The Understudy,” Theresa Rebeck’s amusing backstage comedy, is currently receiving a giddy production at Westport Country Playhouse. Featuring a three member cast, “The Understudy” is irreverent and lighter-than-air in its ambitions, but it proves to be an entertaining show. All three actors do justice to their roles and this is the kind of play that may be best enjoyed by those who are involved in the theatre, even though it’s certainly good enough to tickle just about anyone’s funny bone. Director David Kennedy is in complete harmony with Theresa Rebeck’s writing, and Kennedy has also directed his three actors extremely well. “The Understudy,” at Westport Country Playhouse, may be modest in its ambitions, but it does prove to be a good deal of fun.
From the opening moments of the show, one gets the sense that “The Understudy” is going to be somewhat unusual. Instead of an announcement by the theatre to turn off your cellphones, etc., one sees the funny Eric Bryant, as Harry, actually standing in one of the aisles of the theatre and, as he gradually makes his way onstage, he more or less yells at everyone in the audience to follow proper theatre etiquette. The set-up of this play, itself, is that Harry has been called in for a special rehearsal in order to practice the lines and the part that he is the understudy for. The other two characters in “The Understudy” are Jake (the sleek and often hilarious Brett Dalton), an actor in the show-within-the-show and Andrea Syglowski, who is a treat as Roxanne, a thoroughly disgruntled stage manager.
Audiences looking for deep meaning and significance are not going to find it in “The Understudy,” but everyone else should be satisfied by this show. Not to give too much of the plot away, but it is established early on that Harry was once involved with Roxanne (and it did not end well) and that Jake is able to get the high-paying movie parts that Harry can only dream of. Ironically, for such a lightweight play, the show-within-the-show is actually one of considerable significance: a play by Franz Kafka that is repeatedly spoken about as a truly profound work of art.
During “The Understudy,” the audience sees brief bits of scenes of Kafka’s play being rehearsed, and the dichotomy between the seriousness of Kafka’s play and the sometimes laugh-out-loud tone of Theresa Rebeck’s writing proves to work wonderfully. The show is also blessed with three performers who are completely in tune with Rebeck’s ambitions. It must be said that, after seeing Eric Bryant in such a bleak and serious play as “The Invisible Hand” (previously presented at Westport Country Playhouse), it is a nice change-of-pace to watch him winningly play comedy. Bryant proves to be quite a hoot and he matched perfectly by his costars.
Brett Dalton, as Jake, is often a riot, talking about trying to become a movie star in big budget action films, even as he swears deep allegiance to Kafka’s play. The good-looking Dalton certainly fits the outlines of his role and he plays off of the quirkiness of Bryant’s character perfectly. Just as fine is Andrea Syglowksi, as Roxanne, who is pretty much at her wits end throughout the show, including trying to deal with working with Bryant without wringing his neck. And, since she is playing the stage manager, it’s a lot of fun seeing her sit out in the audience, in order to watch scenes, and also attempting to communicate (unsuccessfully) with someone in the back of the theatre, who is in charge of moving the scenery and controlling the sound and lighting in the theatre, and who is failing miserably.
“The Understudy” proves to be a breezy, comical play, running just about an hour and forty minutes, which seem to fly by. Scenic designer Andrew Boyce does a good job with presenting a mostly empty stage, in which various pieces of scenery are brought on, and sometimes rapidly moved offstage again. The costumes by Maiko Matsushima are just right, in a behind-the-scenes play like this, and lighting designer Matthew Richard’s work is ideal, even as the lighting cues within the show-within-the-show are going riotously off-track. “The Understudy,” at Westport Country Playhouse, is most definitely an endearing piece of featherweight theatre and, as long as one doesn’t expect anything more than that, this show will offer a great deal of amusement.
“The Understudy” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through September 1, 2018. For tickets, please www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.
Photo: (L-R): Brett Dalton, Andrea Syglowski, and Eric Bryant
Photo by Carol Rosegg