EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the August 31, 2014 DC Metro Theatre Arts Review of The Understudy by Robert Michael Oliver
Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy opened this week to a chorus of satiric laughs and biting, insightful one-liners. With a tightly drawn story and easily recognizable characters, The Understudy takes its audience into the backstage world of a Broadway show; and before you groan, “Oh no, not another theatre piece about a theatre piece!” it is important to know that the Broadway show we’re about to see is a Kafka and this backstage is the underbelly of the theatrical world.
Mr. Brandhagen plays Harry with a down to earth, down on his luck, “but I’m not bitter,” enthusiasm that immediately wins the audience over. We’ve all been there, and anyone who has had to compete with a roomful of gloss knows what it feels like. Brandhagen’s Harry is hardworking and honest and full of faults: he just cannot compete in a celebrity-filled world where hype and hip means more than skill and creativity.
Harry is understudy to Jake, played with rising star good looks by Danny Gavigan. Gavigan negotiates with great skill the complexities of Jake’s character, coming on both arrogantly stuck up at the beginning and then vulnerable and open to discovery by story’s end. You see, Jake has just made a Hollywood blockbuster action-adventure film; so he thinks that he has finally arrived at “true” actor status, i.e., he’s made it. Having made it, he deserves the utmost in respect, unlike those groveling understudies who make their way in the world howling and grunting. His relationship with Harry and Jake’s transformation are one of the highlights of the show.
Then we have Beth Hylton as the feisty Roxanne, the stage manager (“Feisty” would be a good word to describe Roxanne under normal circumstances), but The Understudy‘s world of Kafkaesque male/female relations, Roxanne becomes stage manager as doppelganger. You see, Harry is the man who walked out on Roxanne two weeks before their marriage and disappeared with nary a word of explanation. She’s finally seeing him again after six years. You don’t have work too hard to imagine the emotional turmoil our normally dependably “feisty” stage manager, Roxanne, is in. She’s ready to eat more than bear; she’s ready for Grizzly, and Ms. Hylton gives Roxanne the full range of highs and lows, all the while keeping this bizarre evening in a Broadway rehearsal on Kafka headed in the right direction.
Directed by Joseph W. Ritsch, Rebeck’s The Understudy keeps its focus where it should be: on the story of three professionals doing their best to keep their careers and lives on track and at least a wee bit purposeful. The production’s pacing is spot-on, and the clarity of its tale sharp as a diamond.
Everyman Theatre’s tagline is “Great Stores Well Told,” and that could not be more in evidence than with its production of The Understudy. Its ensemble of three talented and well synced actors has taken Rebeck’s solidly constructed story of the three hard working professionals and brought it to life without hyperbole or glitz. As a result, that oh-so-crucial connection between audience and performer carries the day. We are not wowed by the theatrics, or stunned by the depths of despair; instead, we are engaged by the insight and the sheer humanity that the theatre can bring.