Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
For the first play of their 10th Season, Coyote Stageworks has selected a very intriguing and very funny play, “The Understudy,” by Theresa Rebeck.
Imagine that a lost play by Kafka has been found and is being done on Broadway. Now add to that a major movie star is playing the lead and a lesser movie star named Jake is playing the secondary lead while being the understudy to the major star and a total unknown named Harry is Jake’s understudy. On top of all that, Harry and Jake are about to start their first rehearsal being run by Roxanne, the stage manager, who, as it turns out, is Harry’s ex-fiancé whom he abandoned shortly before the wedding and who hasn’t seen or heard from him since. Oh yes, there is also the tech assistant who is a major stoner and is constantly running sound, light and set change cues at the wrong times.
In the best Kafkaesque style, that is, in a nutshell, the entire plot. The play focuses on various topics as it continually changes kaleidoscopically throughout the play’s brisk 90 minute running time. These themes include the fleetingness of stardom, fidelity, women’s equality and show business vs. show business among several others.
Although the play does have its serious moments under the sharp direction of Chuck Yates it never gets mired down as the play continually shifts its focus and themes. Mr. Yates also draws out the best from his cast of three giving each their moments to shine singularly and in the various permutations that 3 characters can give.
As Harry, David Youse opens the play with a monologue filled with laughs which quickly sets the tone of the play. We may be discussing some serious issues here but it is quickly lightened by laughter. He has a well-honed sense of comedic timing and the admirable ability to shift gears instantly.
Alex Best plays Jake, the action movie star who dreams of being more than that someday. In the meantime, he makes a good living even though he complains about his 2.3 million dollar paycheck for a film since the star of the play they are in, the unseen Bruce, makes 20 million plus per film. But everything is relative and that 2.3 million is fantasy money to Harry who so far has only had small or even smaller roles and would be more than happy to be getting that sum. Mr. Best makes Jake a multi-layered character showing that there is more below the surface than other actors may show in the role.
Robin McAlpine infuses Roxanne with a spirit and determination that is at once both enviable and a source for much laughter. Like every stage manager has experienced, frustration with every little mistake builds until all she can do is explode. With the added stress of the man who left her at the altar now a part of the company, her steam level rises quickly and frequently to the boiling point for her and moments of brilliant comedy for us.
“THE UNDERSTUDY” is a wonderful example of how thrilling theatre can be when a good script, the right director and an excellent cast get together. Don’t miss this one!
“THE UNDERSTUDY” is playing now through November 11 at the Annenberg Theatre. For further information or to book tickets contact 760-325-4490 or visit annenbergtheater.org