by Noah Tebben
Instead of indulging my habit to meander slowly into the big question about how the Players’ upcoming show holds up from my sneak preview, I have to bluntly say: the Players have never so thoroughly screwed up a play. They forgot their places, their set was practically designed to malfunction, the crew was all over the place, actors stormed off-stage…it was a right mess. And it’s wonderful. You should go see it for opening night (Friday Oct. 21st at 8PM) or sometime in the following weekend. It is *free*, after all.
Now let me explain, before the Players come burn down our office for slander. I’ll be careful not to give too much away about the play’s contents but I can justifiably say that the Players have not forgotten how to act. Their memories are fine, their set team and tech crew still work long hours to put everything in place and keep all elements in sync. The script, penned by Rick Abbot, takes viewers for a tense meta-journey through the trials that come from working in The ArtsTM. And from Mr. Abbot’s hand, RPI’s own Micaila Dean directs the chaos and brings a refreshing show to the RPI Playhouse this fall. So now that we have that out of the way, I return to my regularly-scheduled meandering.
As I walked into the Playhouse last Sunday, having cordially been invited to see the Players’ new production before it makes a grand debut this very weekend, I had to wonder what the playhouse was like since I’d done my last review nearly two years ago. With the timid frenzy that I’d come to expect of the Players, I was immediately greeted by terrible, terrible puns. As well as enough actors running around to get their headshots before rehearsal that I thought I might have stumbled into a track meet instead of proper thespianism. And a grand debate about naming cats. Shall it be Mr. Meow Meow, or Dr. Rex Forbes, or get an extra cat and have both? You decide, dear reader. But I maintain that Mr. Meow Meow is the clear winner.
And just as clearly, this was business as usual for the Players; and while many of the faces were new, the atmosphere was still just as whimsical and weird and vaguely Victorian. When I finally made my way into the theatre to the tune of overwhelmingly-loud classical music, I found a seat and put on my scary editor-from-the-magazine review face. It really didn’t last long. The cast throws quips and plays off of each other in a deliberately-stilted manner, and it’s particularly clear that Jessica Spencer’s role as Gerry, the exasperated director, was well-selected. She gripes, she groans, she throws her hands about and pleads with all the conviction that I hardly notice Micaila (the true director) doing the same thing, albeit more subtly. (Not really. She laughed a lot, like the rest of us.) The remaining cast follows her lead, and as a few examples, Saul (Jacob Speicher) delivers punchy laughs throughout the play and Violet (Hannah De Los Santos) draws the audience in with aloof comic relief and ‘subtle’ visual cues that play into her character’s underlying desires. Watch her transitions carefully and be sideswept with laughter. I wish I could individually attest to the performing acumen that all of the cast displayed, as they very much did, but we have to leave some of the juicy details for our print issue this Fall, so all in good time my dears.
Along with those flowery commendations, I had some small points of concern to carry with me as well. For those that are decidedly average height like myself, or shorter still, you may have some trouble seeing the full cast in the first act of the play, as they do not use the stage during this portion of the runtime. Granted, the Players have historically had lovely elevated seating and my viewing was not the final show, so your results may vary. Additionally, while the play has deliberate moments where sound effects interrupt the flow of the narrative, I found that in the first few instances this completely drowned out any reactionary lines from the actors instead of merely complementing their frustrations. This issue was not a problem at all post-intermission, when the sound effects were either placed in otherwise silent moments or when their explicit purpose was to drown out any spoken word. Similarly, I found that there were very brief lapses in speech clarity in the first act of the play, making it difficult to decipher some of the quick quips and banter among the cast. Again, these moments were very brief and seemed to dissipate in the second act. The stage blocking was excellent; each character was in plain view in any given scene, which was particularly impressive given the level of movement and high number of Players onstage at any given time.
To close out this tirade, I think my super-sleuth self noticed a few times where some lines slipped for a moment in the second act, but the structure of the play carries this so well that it always played into the effect of the show and never detracted from the atmosphere. It’s a tough balance, no doubt, having to know a part so well that you deliberately have to mess it up and repeat yourself and get lost to play effectively. During intermission, a few of the Players put it best:
“I’m a sh*tty actor!”
“Is there such a thing as a good one?”
Sometimes to play the best, you have to be… just about the worst. And it’s a magical thing. You should be there. I watched in a spacious theatre with a total of seven seats and I greatly enjoyed it. Opening night, and any other performance with a true audience, will be three times better.
The Players open Play On! (A Murder Most Foul) on Friday, Oct. 21st, at 8PM. And it’s free! If you somehow can’t make that, they have a Saturday matinee on Oct. 22nd at 2PM. Go go go! (Get there before we get there masquerading as Players so we can charge for entry at the door. It really shouldn’t be free.)
Editor’s note: More information on the play can be found here.