Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Understudy

As a theatre critic and Drama Desk voter, I see my share of bombs. The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck is the latest. It goes right onto my list of worst plays I‘ve ever seen -- the short list.

Making the evening even more miserable is that two of the three actors -- Julie White and Justin Kirk -- are screechingly, painfully over the top. White plays Roxanne, a high-strung stage manager and Kirk (left in photo) is Harry, an understudy with a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder. For some reason Roxanne is conducting an understudy rehearsal, something the director normally would have been doing. But then it’s appropriate to have an absent director since the director of The Understudy, Scott Ellis, also seems to have been absent for his rehearsals too.

The one worthwhile performance, partly just by contrast, is from Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Jake, a high-paid star of Hollywood action movies who has come to Broadway to do a play.

The play they are rehearsing is a three-hour work by Kafka. The play we were watching, which was only 90 minutes with no intermission, began to feel three hours long. Had I been on the aisle I would have left halfway through. I don’t know why the two people sitting next to me, separating me from escape, stayed because they never laughed and looked at their watch as if they couldn’t wait for it to end either. If they had only left I would have been right behind them, like white on rice.

The Understudy, a Roundabout Theatre Company production, is at the Laura Pels Theatre through Jan. 3.

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