I wasn’t sure at all what I was in for when I sat down for The Understudy at the San Jose Rep. I’ve not raved about the last few productions I’ve seen there and I’m not a fan of the playwright’s TV series that just concluded its first season, so I went into the show uncertain and admittedly a tad apprehensive. What followed was a truly delightful 90 straight minutes of expertly acted intelligent and genuinely hilarious theatre.
The phrasing and rhythm of the play kind of blew my mind. In the same way that some other playwrights have “invented” and/or dominated a specific style or genre (Mamet, Pinter, Shakespeare for example have very distinct, recognizable voices, cadence and structures to their writing) this play was full of unfinished phrases, motifs, and both bold and subtle arcs that were unique and fully mastered. I fell in love and in lust with the content and the vehicle of the content of this play.
And, the content and vehicle I loved/lusted after so much were exquisitely delivered. Our actors were totally endearing, compelling, a pleasant blend of real and caricature, and the chemistry was über fantastic. That’s right, I said über fantastic. There was a character whose default mode was a bit over the top for my liking, but it ultimately gave a nice contrast to the other two characters on stage and allowed for contrasts to some softer internal moments for the character as well.
Although the crowd was laughing right along with me, I think this show will prove to hold a special place in the hearts of theatre folks, and particularly directors, stage managers and actors with a sense of humor. Who might not think this show is funny…if anyone was going to not like it, if I had to totally (and somewhat arbitrarily) guess which generalized group of people might not enjoy this as much, it might be the actor without the sense of humor. The playwright is tough on actors and pulls out (initially) all the stops with regards to stereotypes. Though I laughed out loud throughout the production (not an easy feat mind you) I can see how at least initially it could be difficult for the actor that hasn’t developed a thick protective skin yet, as the actor serves as the butt of many a joke. I guess I justify it as if I watched a show about stubborn, outspoken, redheads…eventually there’s going to be a joke that just hits too close to home and is going to cross that line into not-so-funny territory. Actors, just bring your armor/sense of humor and relish in the great acting and the conversation inducing play itself.
HUGE, high-five to the sound designer who went the extra mile to make the sound very effective and realistic. Also, a big thumbs up to the set designer for helping to make the lines referencing the beautiful set, totally accurate and undisputed.
This well-written show has truck loads of humor, is packed with talented, layered delivery of smart text, and was seriously enjoyable from beginning to end. 4 ½ jewels out of 5 for a triumphant production with some of the best performances I’ve seen at the rep this season. The Understudy plays through June 3rd at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.
Dinner Theatre Pairing: So, I should probably point out that I’m a creature of habit. Once I find something great, as much as I love switching it up, I love the familiar, predictable, traditional routines almost as much as the adventure of seeking out new. Loft bar and Bistro fulfills all I need in a dining experience most days of the week. Burgers, Pastas, Salads, Sliders, Calamari, big portions, friendly and fast service, competent bar tenders, free wi-fi, yummy desserts, the best balsamic reduction bread dip ever, indoor and outdoor seating, live musics some nights, it’s uncrowded, has a big screen TV, and has one if not THE best happy hour deals in San Jose. For example $4 beers on tap $5 house wines that are actually quite nice, HUGE chinese chicken salad or 1/2 pound Angus burger with fries for $6 Mon-Friday, 3pm-7pm, anywhere in the huge restaurant. Just a block from the Rep, they validate for 2 hours at the underground parking garage by the Safeway Market, but if you get there at about 6 most nights of the week you can usually find free street parking on Santa Clara, San Fernando or Third street. Either way, I highly recommend the Loft as a pre-theatre place to meet up for a great meal.