‘Understudy’: Unappreciated side of theatre

Roxanne (Jessica Wortham) and Jake (Craig Marker) inspect Harry’s (Gabriel Marin) equity card in San Jose Rep’s West Coast premiere of ‘The Understudy.’

Webster’s definition for understudy: an actor who learns the part of another actor so as to serve as a substitute when necessary. Here is where prolific, Pulitzer Prize nominee, author and playwright Theresa Rebeck (recently creator of TV’s “Smash”) lets the fall out of what it means to be an understudy in this wacky, witty rendition of a Broadway play within a play by (wait for it) Franz Kafka.
The combination of fine direction by Amy Glazer and a solid trio of San Jose Rep’s finest, favorite actors make this a fun ride into a part of the theatre most are not familiar with.
 Semi-neurotic and lovesick stage manager Roxanne (Jessica Wortham), Harry (Gabriel Marin), a chronically out-of-work frustrated, legit theatre actor as understudy to Jake (Craig Marker), a pop movie hero who wants to be more credible as a stage actor, who plays a lesser role in the Kafka production and is the understudy to Bruce, the unseen, A-list movie hero and star of the play. Confused? Trust me, it all works out with an enjoyable glance at a different side of actors we never see.
The frustrations play out: Roxanne, as stage manager, trying to get a sane rehearsal out of two unparalleled actors who know they will likely never play the roles they are rehearsing for. “The Understudy” gives viewers an amusing look at the futility of an actor in the business where there is always someone to step into an empty spot.  The message is this: what makes the most money is the ultimate end in decisions, and it’s not the actor’s talent that counts. By the way, this is a comedy.
Scenic designer Annie Smart delivers an amazing set that twirls  around the stage like a Disneyland ride on steroids. Seems the scenic designer (also unseen) for the Kafka play is high on life, drugs and anything else imaginable, and when asked to produce a scene, swirls the sets around like a runaway ride.
For an entertaining, humorous glance at the unappreciated side of theatre, “The Understudy” gives an accurate picture. Rebeck’s play and the impressive cast make this production a delightful winner. Division of Sunrise Publications.

Where: San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose
Through: June 3
Details: (408) 367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.

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