“We’ve seen the Play before”
|Glass Apple Theatre presents|
Review by Keith Glab
As you might expect, Glass Apple Theatre‘s inaugural production entitled Play deals extensively with meta-theater. Sonja (Shelby Garrett) authors a play set in her own small apartment that’s based on her own personal relationships and experiences in the theatre world. We can assume that writer/director/actor Brian McKnight also draws heavily upon his own theatrical experiences in creating Sonja and the other characters in her life.
Sonja assembles a group of Chicago theatre stereotypes for a reading of her new play. We meet the tortured actor who abhors the audition process, the pretentious and judgmental director, the attention-starved diva, the theatre outsider drawn in through a romantic interest, and the quiet dramaturg whose only interest lies in analyzing the content of the play.
Sonja’s ulterior motive behind assembling this cast to read her play is to confront her live-in boyfriend Jack (Michael John Lea) with grievances about their relationship while considering reuniting with her ex Stanley (Brian Sharpe). Adding to the tension, Jack has just returned from a poor audition for Stanley.
Despite a short runtime and a fair amount of characters, the cast does well to establish their characters quickly; the fact that they are all largely archetypal obviously makes this easier. As Bernie (David Lipschutz) notes at one point, "stereotypes exist for a reason." While there are times when McKnight’s dialogue doesn’t quite ring true, for the most part he captures an authentic slice of off-loop Chicago theatre life through his words and characterizations.
Alexander Goodman stands out among the cast in his portrayal of Mike, the only non-theatre person in the group. His character might have the fewest lines in the play, but Goodman is nevertheless able to give Mike a warmth and depth that the other characters lack. Meanwhile, Michael John Lea really struggles to sing a note other than annoyance as Jack, though not as much as he struggles with speaking his lines in general.
Play climaxes with Sonja making a decision on whether or not to remain in a relationship with Jack. That decision reads as rushed and unearned, plus conflicts with the chemistry that Garrett displays with the two male actors. Since this conclusion proves less than satisfying, the production falls a little flat. The idea of a play within a play has obviously been around for hundreds of years, and McKnight’s spin on it isn’t unique enough to warrant rushing out to see it. As his character Ilsa (Sara Linker) says, "we’ve seen this play before." While this production has its merits, we’ve also seen this play done more successfully overall.
Play continues through January 17th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $15, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GlassAppleTheatre.com. (Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission)
Shelby Garrett (Sonja), Michael John Lea (Jack), Christopher Pazdernik (Bernie), David Lipschutz (Bernie Jan 7 & 14), Alexander Goodman (Mike), Brian Sharpe (Stanley), Lauren S. Deaton (Emily), Sara Linker (Ilsa)
behind the scenes