Wednesday, July 1, 2015

10 out of 12 **

Is it a coincidence that two promising playwrights named “Anne” or “Annie” have written lengthy plays set in a workplace that involves show business? First Annie Baker gave us The Flick, about the employees of a run-down movie theater. Now Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play) has penned a sly comedy about the actors, creative staff and backstage crew preparing for the opening of a play in a downtown Manhattan theater not unlike Soho Rep, where the show is playing. The production’s concept is a clever one: each audience member is given a listening device to follow the conversations of stage manager (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and crew during the upcoming play’s tech rehearsal. For those not in the know, in which group I include myself, the “tech” is a long, tedious process in which all the elements of the play including lighting, sound design, costumes and set are finalized. The play’s title refers to the union rule that people may not work more than 10 hours in a 12-hour period. The actors in the play-within-a play (Gibson Frazier, Nina Hellman, Sue Jean Kim, David Ross and Thomas Jay Ryan) must deal with a director (Bruce McKenzie) who makes Hamlet look decisive by comparison. As the long rehearsal drags on, the work falls further and further behind schedule. Boredom and fatigue take their toll. Tempers flare and egos burst. Seeing Ryan lose his cool is one of the play’s greatest pleasures. It all ends with a Kumbaya moment that seemed only partially earned. While I admired the concept, I had problems with the execution. There are frequent boring passages, which I realize is part of the point, but nevertheless taxed my patience. There were many entertaining moments too but the fractured structure never came together for me. David Zinn’s set and Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes work well and Les Waters’s direction is sharp. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including intermission.

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