What strikes me most about the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's production of Don't Talk to the Actors is the tone created by director Susan Simosky. While playwright Tom Dudzick's script calls for a couple of roles to perhaps be played bigger than they are, Simosky maintains a simple feel that's more natural than feigned. Watching Thursday's performance, it seemed as if I was looking in on real-life scenes rather than designed ones. There's a gentle, unforced flow to the effort that seems effortless.
Dudzick's plot, though, doesn't quite have that everyday naturalism. That is, unless you, too, are a struggling playwright who is unexpectedly noticed by a Broadway producer who wants to take your play to the Great White Way. With his girlfriend in tow, Jerry Przpezniak - a young writer from Buffalo, New York - finds himself in New York City, working on his Broadway debut with a director, two former stars trying to recapture the spotlight, and the best stage manager in town. Don't Talk to the Actors follows the process of Przpezniak's play from first rehearsal to ... well, just the next day, actually. However, a lot happens to the young playwright's piece in that short amount of time, due, in most part, to his demanding actors.
Portraying Przpezniak, Kevin Maynard maintains an awareness that he's a small fish in a big pond, which adds a meekness to his frustration with the actors signed to star in his play. Maynard brings a subtlety to his rather dorky writer. Becki McCorkle manages to portray a similar sensibility, with her small-town Alrene Wyniarski (Jerry's girlfriend) wide-eyed in a big city, and now spending time with her favorite male actor. The pair keeps hold of the innocence in their portrayals, avoiding inappropriate shifts to darker, bawdier characterizations that might come, with time, in the Broadway spotlight, but not in a matter of two days.
Nicholas Waldbusser offers an impressive performance as director Mike Policzek; this is the best performance I've seen from Waldbusser to date. His work here is so unaffected, so fluid, that it doesn't seem as if he's acting at all. His effort, or seeming lack thereof, is best exemplified in his work with props. When many actors perform an action on stage, they stop doing what they're doing in order to deliver a line, returning to the action afterward. Waldbusser, though, takes a much more realistic approach, continuing his activities - such as pouring a cup of coffee or eating candy - while talking, and his portrayal is much more organic and believable for it.
While I could do without the affected accent, Mollie A. Schmelzer's confident character of Lucinda Shaw, the stage manager, is captivating; her presence grabbed my attention the moment she stepped on stage. She begins Richmond Hill's production by walking onto the set and setting up the room for the play-within-the-play's first rehearsal. In doing so, Schmelzer doesn't say a word for several minutes, but I was absorbed by her movements nonetheless, and she manages to maintain that deserved focus through the end of the show.
Don Hazen and Rosemary Ocar, meanwhile, pull off a fascinating feat as actors Curt Logan and Beatrice Pomeroy. They aren't perfect for their roles, each of which seems to have been scripted to be played larger-than-life, but Hazen and Ocar make the roles perfect for them by not overplaying them. Instead of a pompous, blowhard-jerk of an actor, Hazen's Curt is realistic - a regular guy who merely has a big head from prior successes on stage and screen. He is not a caricature, and neither is Beatrice. Ocar shades her vulgar, joke-telling, vaudeville-style actress with hints of uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt in her ability to pull off the serious role she's been signed to play. And Ocar is really, really funny, bringing down the house with one laugh-out-loud line after another.
If I have any complaints, they're with the script. Act I, to me, ends abruptly, at a point that doesn't seem to be a good place to stop. (I would put the intermission after the first scene of Act II, which left me wondering "What happens next?" more than the end of Act I did.) The climax of the piece, in which the ultimate fate of the play-within-the-play is decided, is also somewhat ridiculous, and all too convenient. Up to that point, however, the plot is rather credible; it's only the climax and denouement that slightly taint what is otherwise an enjoyable show.
For tickets and information, call (309) 944-2244 or visit RHPlayers.com.