During Thursday's presentation, actor James Thames seemed out of place in Scott Community College's The Actor's Nightmare, acting like he was acting, offering a limited range of emotions and inflections, and speaking with a note of desperation in his tone. However, his amateurish performance, whether by design or not, actually proved spot-on for this comedy in which a non-actor finds himself forced to perform roles in four plays with no prior rehearsals.
In author Christopher Durang's play, Thames portrays George Spelvin, an accountant trapped in a dream in which he's thrust into the spotlight as Elyot in Noel Coward's Private Lives, the Danish prince in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Willie (a Nagg surrogate) in Samuel Beckett's Endgame, and Sir Thomas Moore in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. George is routinely told that he's about to go on stage in place of actor Edwin Booth (who has a broken leg), but is not told which role he's playing, or when, and oftentimes depends on Sara Bolet's Stage Manager - dressed as a maid to seem less intrusive when entering scenes - to feed him his lines. And all throughout the comedy, Thames seems believably lost and baffled by what's going on around him, attempting to play along by ad-libbing lines, or stringing together quotes he remembers from studying Shakespeare in school.
Director Steve Flanigin takes a minimalist approach to the staging and blocking, which, as George's nightmare progresses, allows for quicker and more fluid changes from play to play. Flanigin's most creative effects lie in the lighting for the production, with its spotlight comically changing locations - frequently pointing to where George is supposed to be standing but isn't - and the shadows cast across faces adding an eeriness to the Beckett sequence. Flanigin's flair for comedy is also evident in the recorded sound effects used throughout the play, mostly composed of audience reactions such as applause or pitying "Aw-w-w"s that garnered some of the evening's largest laughs from Thursday's real audience.
For her part, which doesn't feature a lot of dialogue, I think Bolet's Stage Manager could get anyone to agree to anything - including portraying the lead role in a play without rehearsals or even a peek at a script - by the sheer force of her charm, spunk, and refusal to take "no" for an answer. Bolet lit up the stage, and brought a smile to my face, every time she entered.
The other actors, portraying actors here, show signs of true stage talent as they change roles in each subsequent play in George's dream. Analisa Percuoco does a fantastic job of showing her growing frustration at George's repeated delivery of the wrong lines in their Private Lives scene; Percuoco's increasing impatience is evident in her smile, which gets more and more forced with every incorrect response to her grand line readings. While Isaac Scott speaks almost too quickly to be understood in his first scene, he more than makes up for it with his over-enunciated, comically loud performance as Hamlet's Horatio, acting broadly while ignoring George's flaky, confused portrayal of the titular character. And with her intriguing mix of daft, ethereal, and almost mad deliveries, Taylor Martin proves captivating in Durang's Endgame scene. Aided by her over-teased hair and the fact that she's sitting in a garbage can, Taylor speaks her written cues ("pause, pause, blink left eye, blink right eye ...") while tossing her head back and forth, and looking like she's a puppet instead of a person.
At about 45 minutes in length, Scott Community College's The Actor's Nightmare moves along quickly enough, and has the added benefit of Durang's script not lingering too long on its gags and humorously theatrical references. I also found that my enjoyment of this droll production was not negatively affected by my unfamiliarity with some of the plays included in its "nightmare," though I think that anyone who is familiar with the four plays might find Flanigin's production all the more amusing.
The Actor's Nightmare runs at Scott Community College's Student Life Center (Room 2400 through Door 5, 500 Belmont Road, Davenport) November 8 through 10 at 7 p.m., and more information is available by e-mailing director Steve Flanigin at firstname.lastname@example.org.