nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
January 22, 2012
Open Rehearsal is a new play by Lazarre S. Simckes, now playing at Theater For The New City. It was selected by Edward Albee as first runner up in Yale’s inaugural Drama Series Competition of 2007 and more recently had a reading at Ensemble Studio Theatre directed by David Margulies. The current production, directed by the author, is the self-consciously absurd story of a family rehearsing a play. Although the script is supposedly written by Grandma (Sheila Mart), the performers frequently rewrite scenes, or launch into scenarios not in the actual play. Perhaps the play is writing itself; there is some homage to Pirandello in this story.
The Director (Marilyn Oran) tries her best to rehearse the work since the Mother (Victoria Guthrie) is often not present due to lupus symptoms and the Father (David Zen Mansley), who is in fact divorced from his wife and feeling the stress of working with her, proceeds to shoot himself and then come back later as a ghost. The adulterous Aunt (Maria Silverman) has kept the Father company during one of the Mother’s cancers.
Throughout, the scenes are out of order. A voiceover from T.N.C. founder Crystal Field identifies each scene, and is always accompanied by stylized coughing, spitting, and/or gargling noises. The college-age daughter (Grace Morales) is falling in love with the guy who is there to fix the faulty theatrical lighting (Josh Black). Their lines are delivered playfully, often with extra singing and dancing flourishes. It is about this time that a random man (Patrick McCartney) gets up from the audience, identifies himself as a doctor on call, is denied a refund for his ticket, and curses the whole production while he exits. He later re-enters as a stagehand who for some reason treats us to his rendition of James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”
Meanwhile, the romance between the daughter and the first lighting technician is complicated by the appearance of a second lighting technician (Justin Rodriguez). Being on parole is one of the happiest things in his life. The daughter is wooed by both technicians, again with much dancing. Suddenly, three young lady understudies (Kayleigh Shuker, Ashleigh Herndon, and Natasha Velez) rush down from the audience and dance-fight the daughter to take her place. The fights run the gamut from Kung Fu to Riverdance styles. As the play organically reaches its conclusion, some family members are horrified by the absence of the promised elephant. The Father, who has already shot himself, starts shooting others.
Taken individually, the jokes in Open Rehearsal make for fine farce. Put together, I got the impression that Milton Berle and Pirandello were working in tandem to create a world where everyone wants to be heard but no one is listening. This seems to have been a directing choice. The enthusiasm of the entire cast for this project is definitely to be commended. Susan Hemley’s costumes are quite sexy and facilitate all the dancing. Alexander Bartenieff’s lighting adds humor as well as elucidating the first and major conflict in the show.