Terrence McNally’s newest play written as a gift to The Pearl Theatre Company for its 30th Anniversary could be subtitled – backstage stories across the centuries. In 100 minutes straight through with six versatile actors Mr. McNally extols the virtues and pitfalls of the acting profession warts and all from the Greeks to Present Day, with pit stops back and forth in time to Russia, London, France and Florida that take place backstage on a congested set designed by Sandra Goldmark that evokes every theatre’s backstage rehearsal area that had me asking “Where’s Waldo?”
Props. Hanging light fixtures. Costumes. Wigs. Sound equipment. Even a bust of The Bard himself. And masks. The all important mask that the first thespians wore.
Even today without an actual mask actors become someone else and here they become a slew of people – actors, of course, but also a cleaning lady, a patron of the arts, a wife of a star and a board member among others making for a concept that is always interesting, sometimes amusing but ultimately coming off as a glorified fundraiser for the beleaguered theatres of today. Which is a very good thing.
Jack Cummings III of the wonderful Transport Group guest directs. And he does what he does best. Directs and coaches actors to be all those other people. And he has an excellent group here as they are introduced to us one by one, kissing the stage paying homage to it and then telling us their favorite and least favorite part played and a personal tidbit of themselves. And then, Away We Go.
It’s an insider’s look at what actors have to deal with and that most of the time they do what they do out of love. Not much has changed over the centuries, except for the fact that women are now allowed on stage.
Nothing and no one is safe from the wry observations and barbs of Mr. McNally. From his salient views of a board member to Edward Albee’s ego and Becket’s infamous “Waiting for Godot” – all fall victim to Mr. McNally’s view of theatre albeit with love.
My favorite episode is that of the disaster of “Waiting for Godot” starring Bert Lahr in Florida where Donna Lynn Champlin portrays Mrs. Lahr. In fact all her other characters are spot on with a finale of seeing each of them one right after another as she exits and enters through a door with split second comic timing and a scarf.
There is also a scene of a young gay man dying which is tender and emotional that honors those many actors stricken with AIDS. It’s jarring although nicely played by all.
The other stellar members of the cast include Rachael Botchan, Dominic Cuskern, Sean McNall, Carol Schultz and newcomer Mr. Micah Stock making an auspicious Off – Broadway debut (he’s quite excellent) in this world premiere by the renowned Terrence McNally.
Through December 15th www.pearltheatre.org Photo: Al Foote III
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