Friday, May 29, 2009

Outfront Laughs and Backstage Truths at IT

Outfront Laughs and Backstage Truths at IT
by Chuck Graham
May 28, 2009

There is still time to catch 'Don't Talk To The Actors,' getting big laughs for one more weekend at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. This energetic comedy by Tom Dudzick, directed by Susan Claassen, takes us deep into the creative process percolating backstage as a young, new playwright gets his first crack at having on a show on Broadway.

Arlene (Dallas Thomas) and Jerry (Eric Schumacher) enjoy a happy moment in 'Don't Talk To The Actors.'

A long time ago I had a tee-shirt that read (in French) "Art is a dirty business, but somebody's got to do it." Dudzick is committed to that idea, and has a great deal of fun showing us why.

Jerry Przpezniak (Eric Schumacher) is the young writer, just arrived in New York's theater district from the untrammeled upstate hinterland of Buffalo. In tow is his girlfriend Arlene (Dallas Thomas), heart all aflutter because one of her favorite actors from girlhood has been cast in a leading role. Impressed that her boyfriend could write such a play, Arlene is even more impressed that she will actually get to meet this now-faded star.

That would be Curt Logan (Douglas Mitichell), a middle-aged blowhard whose best acting was years ago -- which is about the time Arlene as a young girl would have seen him.

The I.T. production does belong to Mitchell, whose performance gets the humor in what makes baseless arrogance so pitiful -- and consequently, so funny.

Arlene, of course, doesn't see any of the down side to her middle-aged hero. She is flattered by all the smarmy attention he slathers on her. A good subtitle to this play would be "And Don’t Let Your Girlfriend Meet Them."

Adding to our suspicions that some popular celebrities are actually snarky people is Liz McMahon as Beatrice Pomeroy. Once one of the bright lights on Broadway, Beatirce has aged into a potty mouthed woman whose naughty jokes now seem disgusting rather than shocking.

David Johnston shows wonderful restraint as Mike Policzek, the director of Jerry's play. Any time an actor gets cast as a director, there is the temptation to fill the director's personality with every unpleasant characteristic imaginable. Johnston's director has his idiosyncrasies, but we appreciate how he is basically a good guy who's been given one of those dirty jobs as an artist.

Adding delightfully droll comedy is Carrie Hill, using a British accent to play the stage manager Lucinda Shaw. Her sense of backstage propriety is intense, clearly believing these Americans simply don’t give the theater its proper respect.

"Don't Talk To The Actors" takes place on the first day of rehearsal, in a cluttered room just off Times Square. The two actors, the director and the playweright gather around a table with copies of the script. Off to the side are Arlene and Lucinda.

At first everyone is polite to everyone else. As the rehearsal process goes on, all of them are always playing the personality angles, probing for weak spots, asserting strengths, wanting to keep the upper hand in this delicate midwifing of a new play.

It is a potent dance, which Dudzick gives the feeling of authenticity. Between laughs, thoughtful audience members will catch some serious tones, as well.

Is the actor's first responsibility to tell the story or to give a career enhancing performance? Is the director's first responsibliity to the script, or to juice up the producion so it sells more tickets? Also stirred into the mix are observations on the subjectivity of art.

As food for thought, "Don't Talk To The Actors" is a balanced meal.