Theatre is a magical thing, the act of transforming energy, hard work and lines on paper into a living, breathing performance. Not many people get to experience the thrill of being in a production and the Cappies National Theater troupe set out to give everyone a peek behind the scenes in three short plays about theatre: "God" by Woody Allen, "Competition Piece" by John Wells and "A Curtain Call to Arms" by Matt Casarino.
"God" explores metaphysical ideology in the musings of an ancient Greek actor and a writer determined to find a suitable ending for their play before the Athenian Drama Festival. But when the pair realizes they too are actors, both just puppets of Woody Allen, they try to break free of their scripted destiny. Their plan goes well until a scantily clad bombshell from Brooklyn shows up onstage and it's chaos from there. "God" also utilizes a traditional Greek chorus to quite humorous effect when they sing some very untraditional things. As usual, the standout performer is Branson Reese. Superb comic timing and a razor-sharp wit always distinguish Reese from the rest, and his performance in "God" makes no exception. As the bumbling slave Diabetes, he brings humor and light to a sometimes-slow script. Also notable was J.J. Nolan as a startlingly authentic Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire"; whose random appearance is a perfect example of the eccentric sense of humor of Mr. Allen employs in "God."
NEXT CAME "Competition Piece," a view into the rehearsal processes and final products of three high schools performing in a one-act play competition. First came the preppy school, led by straight-laced Miss Hockenschmoss, who perform a puppy-love romance yet can't seem to get by that awkward kissing scene. Next, the artsy students led by New-Age, gong-wielding nutcase Mrs. Mellencamp, who manages to convince her students to perform a Japanese Kabuki version of Shakespeare's classic tragedy "Hamlet." Last to appear are the morbid and macabre metalheads who's uncomfortable and uninformed new drama teacher previously served as football and basketball coach and has yet to read a play. With such circumstances, it is inevitable that chaos ensues during frenzied rehearsals approaching the big day. While "Competition Piece" is a wholly amusing play, the actual (albeit fast-forward) final performances of the three shows are the best moments by far. The artsy group comes out on top, with a mesmerizing and surprisingly clever "Hamlet," especially considering Kabuki and Shakespeare generally do not mix. Particularly of note is the versatile Zach Fithian as the silent yet endlessly enrapturing Hamlet. His magnetic presence lends gravity to (the equally brilliant Rachel Greenspan) Mrs. Mellencamp's lofty idea.
LAST BUT certainly not least was the mirthful "A Curtain Call to Arms," a witty comment on the stubbornness of actors. "Curtain Call" begins backstage, as actors wait anxiously before taking their bows. Suddenly as the first actor steps out to soak in the glorious applause of the audience, gunshots ring out. A real gun? Onstage? And more importantly, during the curtain call? As the actors scramble around backstage, the sensible stage manager tries to reason with them, showing the safe way out the back door. Some reluctantly begin to walk away till they realize — they haven't taken their bow yet! All of the actors staunchly refuse to leave till they have given that hard-earned bow. But what to do about the gun-wielding extra gone mad onstage? The conniving side in everyone comes out as they try to persuade their understudies to venture onstage in an effort to use up the gunman's bullets. Finally, the gun is silent. As five actors lay dead, the rest grab the gunman, and demand an answer. And why? Well, it's only a play! As the gun-woman comforts the audience, reminding them that it was all just theatre. In "Curtain Call," the cast performs expertly as a clique of vapid, pretentious actors. Especially remarkable in all his vigor and fury was D.J Cashmere as self-involved actor Tom. His crazed, passionate oration to Kristen (Laurie Nellesen) is so full of blood and fervor that she dashes out onstage at his command, only to be shot a moment later. Cashmere's obvious ease on the stage and graceful charm only make his character more appealing.
"Playz!" uses a generic, modular set to adapt to three very different shows in a small amount of time. Responsible for the brief set changes is the masterful stage crew who makes hardly a sound while moving large platforms in the dark. Appropriate and occasionally even funny, costumes complement characters and keep the look professional. Kwame Head's make-up is also smooth and consistent.
"Playz!" puts on quite a show, or rather, three with the talented young actors of Cappies National Theatre. Here's to the stage and it's future.