Reviewed by Myron Meisel
Working Stage Theater
Through April 3
Coming a generation earlier than Sheila Callaghan, Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius, Seminar) mapped out a career course for many like her to model. Her early comedies boasted a fresh perspective that hadn’t been encountered before onstage (The Family of Mann, Bad Dates, Spike Heels), and she continued to develop her sensibility into more commercial theatrical directions (also while working in television). Her 2009 piece, The Understudy, receives its west coast premiere in a nine-performance engagement at the tiny Working Stage space.
It’s kind of an exercise, though dexterously and savvily realized, as exercises are meant to be. An embittered, failed stage actor (he’s just changed his name) reports for his sole run-through as understudy for an action movie star in the unlikely fantasy of an undiscovered, three-hour hit Kafka adaptation on Broadway. Equally fanciful, the preening and presumptively untalented blockbuster hero is himself understudying an even bigger, never-seen Hollywood megastar (who earns ten times his quote), who is assaying a multitude of parts in the play while ever open to take another lucrative movie role.
Rebeck understand actors and nails rehearsal misbehavior cold with considerable drollery and intermittent perceptiveness. Her mock Kafka is a hoot, and the controlling conceit of a Kafkaesque backstage intrigue mostly sustains the antics. Braxton Molinaro as the insecure understudy convinced of his superior gifts, Max Bunzel as the vain celebrity with more chops than are apparent, and in the showiest role, Magdalene Vick as the put-upon, wronged stage manager (those unsung champions of every show) all impart savory flavor to roles that, while built upon stereotypes, never descend to them. Within highly limited resources, director Laura Henry displays a sure hand.
The energy ultimately flags as the action must progress toward some resolution, but while one of Rebeck’s lesser efforts, The Understudy is still a pleasurably satisfying entertainment, a good night of inside theater.
Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Hollywood, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 3. (800) 838-3006, theunderstudy.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: One hour, 15 minutes.