The Understudy at Harlequin Productions

by Christian Carvajal for OLY ARTS

The world of theater production is as diverse as its international cast and crew, but certain commonalities do exist. The stage manager, for example, is the most undervalued, overworked member of almost any crew. Actors tend to date actors, so it doesn’t take long before a town’s theater community is encumbered with, shall we say, complex relationships. The casting of a movie star in a live stage show multiplies both the box office take and the resentment felt by full-time theater actors.

Those are the problems faced by Roxanne, the stage manager of one production of a recently unearthed (fictional) Kafka script, in Theresa Rebeck’s (actual) 2009 play, The Understudy. Follow all that? Scot Whitney, director of Harlequin’s March production of The Understudy, does his best to explain: “The elevator pitch is tough,” he admits. “It’s about a three-hour, Broadway-smash, Kafka play starring two action-movie stars: one who makes $25 million a picture and one who makes $2 million a picture. The big star, Bruce, we never meet. Jake (David S. Hogan) is the second-tier movie star, and he plays the standard Kafka character the whole world screws with…Bruce could get another picture at any time, and it’s a (union) show so they have to have an understudy. The plan is Jake will move into Bruce’s role, and they’re bringing in an understudy (Jason Haws) to play Jake’s role. The new hire shows up—he’s recently changed his name—and oops, he was engaged to be married to Roxanne six years ago. Two weeks before the wedding, he got on a plane and took off. And this is the first time they’ve seen each other since.”

“I just loved it more with every page,” Whitney continues. “Things just crumble around them. It’s so funny. I thought, there’s no way they can end this! I couldn’t believe (Rebeck) found a way. It’s gorgeous and perfect.”

The Understudy offers a less dire version of the chaos and complications of modern life. “I think everybody these days,” begins Whitney, then edits himself: “Well, everybody who lives near water is feeling like the whole world has crumbled around them. I look for great stories I need to tell. It gets harder and harder to find them. This is the most I’ve been looking forward to directing in years…They’re trying to do this serious thing, struggling for power within this crew, but all three characters are deeply flawed and absolutely adorable. The way they find their own lives and a way to carry on in the face of cataclysm is just beautiful.”

What: The Understudy

Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, March 2-25;
2 p.m. Sundays, March 5-19

How much: $20-$34

Learn more: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions

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