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A CurtainUp  Berkshire Review
The Actor's Worst Nightmare
and Writer's Block

Barrington Stage has created an attractive small space for this season's second stage production, two one act plays which would seem extremely well matched. Christopher Durang's frequently produced The Actor's Worst Nightmare is about a man who claims to be an accountant but finds himself in the actor's dream -- being on stage in a starring role -- and concurrently experiencing the nightmare of having forgotten his lines and even the play he's supposed to be in. Luke J. Taylor's posthumously produced Writer's Block is about a would-be writer who is convinced that the only thing standing between him and literary fame and fortune is a soundproof writing room but discovers that he has nothing to say.

For George the central character in the curtain raising Durang play, the nightmare seems never ending. For the audience his nightmare flies by on wave after wave of laughter as he attempts to accommodate the director and actors who don't seem to realize that he doesn't have a clue as to how he landed on stage. Despite George's repeated pleas that he's really an accountant, he finds himself forced to navigate through leading roles in Noël Coward's Private Lives, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons and, most hilariously of all, Beckett's Happy Days. Amazingly, George manages to snatch at a line here, a line there. During Private Lives he is prompted by a maid (Nancy Franklin). At another point he gets into the spirit of the moment with a Kiss Me Kate "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" routine. These bits of dialogue are ingeniously interwoven into Durang's script But for all of George's efforts to catch the mood of each play he stumbles into he never gets to take a final bow since the executioner from The Man for All Seasons (Jason Olazabal) chops off his head.

Naturally what maybe every actor's nightmare is also a juicy role and George Kent, as the hapless thespian finesses his way through Durang's wildly theatrical landscape with great agility. The other cast members remain blissfully deaf and blind to who he is (or isn't). It is their hilarious imperviousness to George's predicament that keeps this conceit, afloat.

One could look for more serious meanings beneath all the smart allusions. Is the playwright just having a ball or does he want us to figure out who the dreamer really is, or to consider the question of dream vs. reality? My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the fun, the energetic cast's splendid acting, Janice Zeller's amusing costumes and Gary Poholek's ability to make much of just a few simple props. The fact that Durang is a terrifically witty writer and knows when to stop also accounts for the playlet's being consistently funny. This, alas, brings us to the second half of this evening.

Luke J. Taylor's play about the blocked writer (Richard Rameaka) who finds that even the most perfect work environment can't compensate for a dearth of ideas (or talent) is an overworked shtik piece. The play does have some funny lines but it's sadly lacking in the airy wit of the first offering. You can spot the writer's comeuppance and his Mafia bodyguard's (Jason Olazabal) coming-up-in-the-world long before the finale. The actors do their best to give life to the all too familiar and predictable characters. Jeff Kent, this time in the smaller double role of a contractor and crooked inspector, also has little to work with. The production values are fine. Too bad that Taylor, unlike Durang, did not know when to stop. This writer's block suffers from writer's excess.

Taylor unfortunately died before he could apply his skills to a better play. However, Christopher Durang has written numerous one act plays and this evening of one acts would be more enjoyable with a Durang, Durang bill of fare.

By Christopher Durang
Cast: Jeff Kent, Amanda Root, Brandy Zarle, Nancy Franklin, Richard Rameaka, Jason Olazabal
By Luke J. Taylor
Cast: Richard Rameaka, Jeff Kent, Jason Olazabal, Brandy Zarle
Directed by Andrew Volkoff

Set Design: Gary Poholek
Costume Design: Janice Zeller
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Rick Brenner & Sarah Pucillo
Running time: 2 hours including 1 intermission
Barrington Stage Company
Stage 2, Consolati Performing Arts Center
Sheffield, MA (513) 528-8888
8/03/2000-8/20/2000; opening 8/06/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/06 performance

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