AISLE SAY Philadelphia


By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by David Kennedy
Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Playing now through January 30, 2011
Box Office: (215) 546-7824

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

The Wilma Theater brings Theresa Rebeck's very funny Off-Broadway hit, "The Understudy" to Philadelphia for the first time. This spot on look at commercial theater in America is a must see for anyone working in the theater, studying the theater, or about to become associated with the theater.

I have always detested curtain speeches. For me, they are always long, dreary affairs about donating money, buying subscriptions and turning off one's electronic devices. Ho, hum! Well, obviously director, David Kennedy hates them too - because opening night there wasn't one. In its stead was a very clever trick to get you to silence your phones - or else. This three person tour de forceowes its success as much to Ms. Rebeck's smart writing as to the crackerjack performances displayed by the talented cast and its excellent direction by Mr. Kennedy.

Stage Manager Roxanne is trying to conduct a rehearsal with Harry, the newly hired understudy, and Jake, a Hollywood B List action actor, one of the show's "stars". The play is a recently discovered masterpiece by the enigmatic Franz Kafka and so far it has been a hit on Broadway. This is due in part to the good reviews it's received and to its two Hollywood stars, Bruce and Jake, who are bringing in big bucks at the box office. What makes this piece so much fun is the relationships past and present between the three characters and the author's truthful eye on how theater is produced in this country.

Cody Nickell is exemplary as the neurotic, bitter, seriously minded actor, Harry. We forgive him for being a coward and a bit of a dufus, because he is so earnest about his craft. as the self-satisfied, cool and Mr. "in control" movie star hits just the right note. As his character unfolds we see his insecurity and vulnerability rise to the surface making him a more interesting and well rounded character. Jean Harris as Roxanne is a force to be reckoned with. She is quite simply, funny, funny, funny. However, at some point in the play, I would have hoped that her chewing the scenery would calm down a bit as it does get wearying after a while. I think as the run of the play progresses; Ms. Harris will ease into her part and come down to the perfect level of her male counterparts.

The setting is a big Broadway proscenium stage with various set pieces from a Kafka play gliding and flying in and out. Set designer Andrew Boyce has created a proscenium that is a beautiful replica of an old Broadway house. And the scenic pieces of a tavern, a large windowed office and a cavernous staircase are realistically detailed and meticulously painted. Suffice it to say that the set is too gorgeous for words and it's a shame that it's so underused. But such are the needs or "non-needs" of this play.

You don't have to be "in the theater" to enjoy this show! It's a quick and hilarious evening out for anyone and everyone.

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