When a line like “Get in the truck!” catapults Jake to a two million dollar paycheck, it’s not surprising that Harry, his Broadway understudy, is resentful. Theresa Rebeck’s play The Understudy showcases a talented actor’s frustrations. Celebrities earn the big bucks while some great actors never get a break. The play is touted as Rebeck’s latest comedy, but truth be told, the play under the direction of David Kennedy is more sad than funny. No one dies, so it is definitely not a tragedy. If you look at it from the classic definition of a comedy, there’s supposed to be at least a happy ending. However, that’s not the case here. There’s little to laugh about in this heart-wrenching play about being an actor and desperate for work and legitimacy.
Nonetheless, it is an entertaining play that could even be better if edited. Some parts are just too tedious. Also of note is that the funniest character is an absent unseen character, leaving one to wonder why the comedy lies off stage. Overall, this play doesn’t fit well into any category, but it is entertaining with fine performances by a trio of celebrated actors.
It all starts when Broadway stage manager Roxanne (Andrea Syglowski) calls for a rehearsal with two understudies. Jake (Brett Dalton) is the understudy for the male lead and Harry (Eric Bryant) stands by for Jake’s secondary role. Roxanne is stunned when she discovers that the understudy for the lesser role is none other than Harry, her ex-fiancée. He’s the guy who disappeared a few weeks before their wedding. She still has the wedding gown in her closet. Harry resents Jake, who has been wedging his foot in the door of filmdom. Jake is hungry for more. He bemoans that two million dollars is nothing compared to what the big stars get. He wants his name to become more familiar to movie producers and directors. He’s hoping this Broadway gig of a Kafka play will make him even more noticeable.
Eric Bryant, who appeared on TV’s The Blacklist, plays Harry an accomplished and passionate actor who pays the thankless price of performing any part in any show just to do what he loves. Brett Dalton as Jake is known for his role on the ABC-TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He wants to achieve celebrity status. Andrea Syglowski, who has won many prestigious awards and honors, plays the harried stage manager. She also breathes life into the unseen pothead lighting director and scenic manager who is supposedly so high that she never brings down the proper set.
Andrew Boyce, the actual scenic designer for this play, has designed fabulous sets that are well highlighted by Matthew Richards’ lighting design. Maiko Matsushima’s costumes are character appropriate and Fitz Patton, the sound designer, starts the play with a bang — a gunshot. This production plays through Sept. 1. Box office: 203-227-4177.