Dying City and An Actor’s Nightmare impressive debuts for SHSU Theatre

George Spelvin stands before a judging audience, struggling to deliver the right lines with proper inflection. After running out of movie quotes, he recites the pledge of allegiance, and then the prayers he learned in school. He stops long enough to tell the audience he enjoyed the monastery because he “Found that predictability quite attractive.” George Spelvin embodies a mankind more comfortable living by a script than thinking or acting for itself.

The University Theatre Center opened its one-act battle-royale with Christopher Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare, starring Calvin Hudson, Amanda Spindola, Chaney Moore, Theresa Hunt, Joshua Moore and Erik Holm.

Hudson led the cast as George Spelvin, an audience member thrust, quite literally, into an actor’s worst nightmare. He is mistaken for an understudy who “Must go on!” by a stage manager. George can’t even figure out what play he’s in, between stagehands plowing about onset, an actor drinking onstage and misplaced props.

Nightmare’s comedy comes mostly from George’s unsuccessful attempts at improvising lines and adjusting his codpiece. It also contains an element of slapstick that escalated into absurdity towards the end. Overall, it generated fairly consistent laughter from the audience, which I can only hope was intended.

The remaining cast played characters resembling Matryoshka dolls. It is difficult to determine how successful the actors playing actors playing actors were. In some parts, the acting seemed melodramatic, which very well may have been the point.

This is Hunt’s third performance I’ve had the pleasure to see and I am impressed with her growth as an actress. I look forward to seeing her in bigger roles as her career progresses.

Thematically, Nightmare was excellent. Durang obviously took the line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” seriously. Hudson was very convincing as a man perpetually being critiqued and looking for someone to tell him his next “LINE!” He is not unlike anyone today whose conversations consist mostly of quotes from Superbad or The Office.

Following the intermission was Christopher Shinn’s Dying City. Like Nightmare, Dying City relied on a small cast to cover a lot of emotional ground. Tasheena Miyagi played Kelly and Zach Lewis played the roles of Craig, Kelly’s wife, and Peter, Craig’s twin brother.

Kelly is a widow who is watching T.V. one night when her late husband’s twin-brother knocks on the door. Seeing Peter forces her to encounter the past she tried to leave behind. The plot alternates between Peter’s surprise visit and Craig’s last night before going to Iraq.

Dying City was dramatically the superior of the two plays that night. Miyagi played an excellent war-widow. Her timing was spot on for dialog and her visceral reactions to Peter were chilling. Everything, down to the crossing of her arms, showed uninviting body language.

Perhaps the most challenging role of the evening fell on Lewis. He portrayed Craig, a misogynistic U.S. Army soldier, and Peter, a homosexual, drug-addicted actor. Being on the showcase theatre, Lewis had to use hand movements and facial expressions to explore his characters. Both he and Hudson capitalized on this with their fidgety hands and expressions of consternation, respectively.

The lighting to distinguish between night and morning was apt, as well as the chromatic flickering to represent the T.V.’s glare. Also, the repetitious transitions between present and past were seamless with clever prop placement and costume changes. It’s amazing what a few packing boxes do to make an apartment grim.

The only weakness in Dying City came from the dialog. One of the fights was excessive and some of the lines themselves seemed stilted. Other than that, both actors gave strong performances.

What surprised me most about Dying City was its ability to transcend the political premise of the negative impacts of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. It dealt with timely themes like self-medication, the broken family unit, promiscuity and the hypocrisy of war. In a letter to his brother, Craig writes about “Soldiers invading homes and freedom of those they meant to free.” Another email is a confession of infidelity.

The play opens and closes beautifully. Kelly, the therapist who can heal everyone’s problems but her own, self-medicates with television. In the end, she reclines on the couch with the television flickering red, blue and yellow over her face.

Leave a Reply