'Understudy' a comedy about Kafka - and a lot moreby Alicia Blaisdell-bannon
BOSTON — "The Understudy," making its Boston premiere at The Lyric Stage Company this month, is about the theater, love, betrayal, disappointment, human connections, Franz Kafka, mistaken perceptions, movie stardom and the power of storytelling.
If that sizable list sends you into despair, did I not mention Franz Kafka?
What: "The Understudy"
Written by: Theresa Rebeck
Presented by: The Lyric Stage Company
When: through Jan. 29
Where: Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon St., Boston
Reservations: 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com
Complicated Kafka, the bane of many a high school English student, is at the center of Theresa Rebeck's compact one-act comedy, which opens with the understudy himself, Harry (Christopher James Webb), bemoaning his fate as second fiddle to Hollywood actor Jake (Kelby T. Akin), one of two action-movie stars doing their Broadway bit in a newly discovered play by the deceased German author. (The second, more important star, Bruce — hmmm — is only mentioned but never actually appears.)
Webb quickly and efficiently establishes his Harry as the sort of self-deprecating, sad sack professional theater actor we figure we'll root for all play long. Oh, he's not bitter, he says, about backing up an actor whose most famous cinematic line to date is "Get into the truck!" We feel for Harry even more deeply when it turns out that the play's stage manager, Roxanne (Laura Latreille), is the woman he left a few years earlier, shortly before they were due to walk down the aisle.
Oh, Roxanne says, she's not bitter about being abandoned practically at the altar and never hearing from Harry.
And then, just as we're set up to enjoy (or endure, as the case may be) a play where our thespian hero tries to make amends with the woman he wronged while taking witty, well-deserved pot shots at a Hollywood star who wouldn't know Kafka if he materialized as a cockroach in front of him, Rebeck mixes it up. She makes Jake vulnerable. And insightful, in an almost childlike way. And kind. (She's aided here by a charismatic turn from Akin.)
He's the high school jock who understood "Hamlet" better than you did and volunteered at the food pantry once a week.