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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Laura Pels Theatre


  Julie White, Justin Kirk, Mark-Paul Gosselaar/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

Franz Kafka, the bleak existentialist author of The Trial and  The Metamorphoses, isn't really remembered for having a sense of humor. But in Theresa Rebeck's backstage satire The Understudy, an up-and-coming male movie star, his dangerously hyperactive understudy, and a frenzied female stage-manager proceed to chew the scenery for 90 straight minutes while rehearsing a long-lost play supposedly written by Kafka.
A theatergoing crowd might appreciate how the show pokes fun at overdramatic, cocky actors and their bitter understudies. But rather like Rebeck's recent play Our House, which attempted to spoof reality television, The Understudy tackles fads that have already been explored to death, most notably film stars taking on Broadway shows.
Much of the plot doesn't even make sense. Why is Jake (played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar) understudying another role himself if he is such a big star? It's just a lame premise for Jake to rehearse alongside Harry, who understudies Jake's regular role. More so, the romantic subplots are undeveloped, scenes where the actors rehearse Kafka drone on endlessly, and the actors randomly enter and exit the stage.
Scott Ellis' animated 90-minute production makes up for the underwhelming text by providing solid laughs, energized performances, and a strange scenic design that twists and turns to reveal ridiculously elaborate, Kafkaesque settings. The play even ends with a soft-shoe dance sequence.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar makes a surprisingly strong stage debut, bringing out the play's humor without making his performance feel forced. When his character proudly invokes Kafka's name, it sounds almost like a cheer.
Justin Kirk, playing Jake's stark raving mad understudy, screams at a ridiculously high decibel level and makes wild hand gestures. It feels as if he is desperately attempting to overshadow the rest of the cast.
Julie White, who recently received a Tony Award for The Little Dog Laughed, presents a characteristically manic and over-the-top performance with pitch-perfect comic tim


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