Titanic and The Actor’s Nightmare
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
March 31, 2011
The Hyper Aware Theater Company is smart. In the Director’s Note in the program, Richard Pepio writes, “Your dreams can be filled with the craziest absurdities, the most embarrassing realities, and thoughts you didn’t even know you had inside you. Hopefully, we can all find some truth in what is said and done here. But if all else fails, at least it is something to laugh at.” That quote shows the balance between heart and humor which makes this combination of Durang’s well-known The Actor’s Nightmare and his more obscure Titanic a bizarre but worthwhile night of theater.
The two pieces are performed with an intermission between them and using the same cast. Both plays start off a little strange and escalate to higher and higher levels of absurdity and crazy shenanigans. In Titanic, especially—which tells the story of a group of fools on a ship that may or may not be heading toward an iceberg—the entire world of the play gets so out of whack that, by the end, nothing is surprising. It’s strange, dirty, funny, and oddly captivating. The Actor’s Nightmare begins with a fairly straightforward concept and spins out of control. All of this is okay, of course, if you know what you are getting into, which you probably do just by showing up for a Durang play.
The Actor’s Nightmare is, by far, the more accessible of the two plays but probably the more difficult to pull off. A man—not an actor—finds himself on stage, in front of an audience, unrehearsed and completely unprepared. He doesn’t even know what play he’s in and by the time he sort of figures it out, it changes. I think the lead role in this play must be almost impossible, but Louis Aquiler does a fine job. He handles the monster monologue in the middle of it well. I do think he could have found more levels in it (like more joy and more of a wish to “get it right”) but I enjoyed the piece so much and the audience—as evidenced by the hysterical laughter of those around me—did as well.
All of the actors are impressive in both works. I am particularly in awe of Alexis Rhiannon, especially in Titanic, as she probably has the most far out part and through her commitment she makes it completely believable. I also respect Ariana Murphy and Chris Dippel as the closest thing these plays have to “straight men.” In The Actor’s Nightmare, Dippel captures the “serious, famous Shakespearean Actor” in his delivery as Horatio, but without coming off as mocking or commenting. As the captain in Titanic, he maintains an air of authority even when everything—his words, his actions, even his head gear—contrasts with that authority. Chris D'Amato and Christopher Norwood also give sincere performances that live up to the high level of this company.
What I found impressive about the production of these two plays is the commitment of the actors and how they play it all so straight. In Titanic, the actors are asked by Durang’s script to dance, to chase one another, to forcefully undress one another, to fight, to run around, and more (much, much more!), and their seriousness balances out the absurdity. As my companion said after it was over, and as the director wished, “You get drawn into the world and it seems real.”