KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 15, 1998
No doubt we’ve all had the Bad Student or Bad Employee dream. You show up for an exam or a presentation, and you haven’t studied, you don’t know the topic, and you’re likely to be stark naked. So, what do you think an actor might dream about? No one knows better than actor/playwright Christopher Durang, who wrote “The Actor’s Nightmare.”
You can just imagine it. You don’t know what play you’re in; you haven’t memorized any lines; you can’t recall having attended any rehearsals; and you can’t figure out whether you’ve been thrown onstage in something by Shakespeare, Beckett or Noel Coward. Worse yet, everyone keeps calling you George Spelvin, a fictitious name that’s used for years, as billing for walk-ons and corpses.
“The Actor’s Nightmare” forms Act Two of Second Star Productions “Evening of Comedy.” As plays go, it’s definitely the highlight of the evening. But it overly stretches the capabilities of the company. Only Brad Davis and Lisa Galer capture the essence and tone of the piece, which requires enormous versatility in alternating between genres and acting styles.
Davis is hilarious as the clueless actor, trying to fake his way through or wake himself up. In a prior piece, “Après Opera,” he’s also having sleep troubles, but this time as a defensive and suggestible narcoleptic. Galer is a perfectly Beckettian Winnie in the “Happy Days” portion of Durang’s “Nightmare,” and she’s funny in “Off the Rack,” a goofy little playlet about a Personal Services consultant sent out on an emergency closet-cleaning call. The 5-actor ensemble is far better suited to the three first act fluff-pieces, but these seem like Saturday Night Live skits — cute ideas that aren’t sufficiently developed and don’t really go anywhere. The Durang play is in a whole other theatrical category, but it could be significantly funnier with a different caliber of actor. Nonetheless, this is a company worth watching; they do interesting work, and Marjorie Mae Treger is a fine director.
Now, speaking of cute and interesting ideas, how about asking a bunch of high-power playwrights to write one-acts inspired by a Shakespeare sonnet? The result is inspired insanity — from the likes of Tony Kushner, Wendy Wasserstein, John Guare, Eric Bogosian, William Finn, Marsha Norman and Ntozake Shange. The production, called “Love’s Fire: Fresh Numbers by Seven Famous American Playwrights,” is performed by The Acting Company, a 25 year-old New York ensemble of talented young actors dedicated to performing classic and contemporary works in repertory. This combo-package of new plays premiered in New York last January, and dropped into San Diego for a brief, one-night visit to the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Now THIS was an actor’s dream, an actor’s nightmare and an evening of comedy all rolled into one!
And, there was even a local angle– two of the nine talented performers and the stage manager had formerly worked at the Old Globe, and they shone. Erika Rolfsrud and Stephen DeRosa were particularly compelling, she as an unraveling shrink and he as her hilariously neurotic patient in the high point of the evening, “Terminating or Ambivalence” by the inimitable, hysterical and invariably thought-provoking Tony Kushner, who always manages to infuse his brilliantly clever writing with wit, metaphysics and epistemology. It’s not quite clear that the Bard had anal sex on his mind in Sonnet 75, but Kushner makes anything possible.
In “The General of Hot Desire,” John Guare’s entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying take on sonnets 153 and 154, a character asks, “Can fourteen lines bear so much weight?” Well, in updating and reinterpreting the sonnets, twisting, reconfiguring and modernizing their ideas for new, young audiences, the answer, 400 years after the writing, is a resounding and unequivocal ‘Yea and Forsooth.’
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.