Dick Reichman's latest play, "The Audition," asks us to choose between art and security, pragmatism and dreams. This seriousness may perplex those who take their seats expecting sitcom entertainment or spectacle. But the one-act play, which debuted at Cyrano's on Friday, will churn the thoughts of reflective people long after its 100 minutes of action are over.
For much of the time, it feels like a comedy. Punch lines punctually drew laughter. The liveliness of the characters -- all nicely presented by the cast under Reichman's direction -- made all six of them believable, though screwed up. We learn volumes about each within a few lines of dialogue.
The situation is silly on its face. An aging, ailing, once-famous actress and director, Simone Crystal (Julia Cossman), is holding a workshop at a small theater in a remote town and only three paying participants show up. The wannabes and the company's tech director (Janet Stoneburner) all harbor hopes of achieving glory on the stage. They've mainly come because they've heard that Simone is from New York and, they assume, has connections.
But instead of a workshop, Simone announces that she is actually auditioning them for her own repertory company. One by one she pounds them through bits of August Wilson, Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare. The fact is, Simone does have a gift that can turn a fireplug into an actor. Sometimes she interrupts to correct them before they even speak. "I can read minds," she says.
From Delores' (Tiffany Allen) she extracts the admission that the woman is frustrated by her invalid mother and has her apply that anger to the reading she's memorized. She pulls Brent (Taran Haynes), a war veteran on disability, out of the closet as he reads the part of Brick from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." "Now play him as gay," she orders after dismissing Brent's first attempt.
Harold (James Jensen), a banker who's just lost his job and is about to lose his wife, isn't even allowed to read his dream role, "Hamlet." Instead Simone needles him into laying his secrets before the group, which he does in such detail that he finally cries, "To get any more honest I'll have to start telling lies."
The fact that Harold is a self-admitted lousy actor doesn't deter her from putting him "on the list" of people she wants to join her company in New York. She orders her assistant Alex (Leo Grinberg) to put them ALL on the list. She's an apostle of "communist theater." She holds that talent and ticket sales shouldn't be a consideration. It's as wrong for big-name actors to shut average people out of top roles in theater as it is for the wealthy to have the majority of the money, she says.
Speaking of money, there's a $1,100 placeholder fee expected of each new company member to secure their spot on the roster until the company can actually put on a show. The participants go from glee to balkiness when they read that part of the contract. Delores can't leave her mother destitute. Brent doesn't even have his own money; his sister is his assigned caregiver. The tech director has a medical issue. All suspect a scam.
Abruptly, or rather after a couple of spells requiring an oxygen bottle, Simone orders Alex to give everyone their money back. "These people are as poor as we are," she tells him.
Just what triggers the empathy isn't clear; it's the one weak spot in the script. Or so I thought as I watched it. But there are subtle indications from the start that she may have a heart.
Two days later (it's usually an indication that the play is good if you keep ruminating on it), it seems to me that there's something of "Waiting for Godot" in "The Audition." It's not about trying out for a play but about reconciling one's life with one's aspirations.
When the possibility of a scam is raised, Reichman dissolves the comic metier and reforms it as tragedy within a matter of moments, with a wave of Prospero's wand, as it were. He redirects us from snickering at the foolishness of the characters to considering our own foolishness. They struggle with whether or not to leave the relative safety of their current circumstances and pay a chunk of money for an unlikely fantasy. But what are we willing to give up for our illusions? How do we separate the purported truth of art from the murkiness of our beloved enthusiasms?
To answer that, very man, every woman must eventually rise in a metaphorical audition, an audition in which he or she is both the only actor on the stage and the only member of the audience.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM