The “play within a play” device is a tough trick to pull off, even for the likes of Shakespeare. XY Players’ Experimental offers up a trippy tale about actors trapped in a murderous script, swinging unpredictably between serious mystery and campy satire.
The play opens with eager actors Roy and Deidre rehearsing their scenes for a new play, directed by the mysterious “Bob”. The two exchange typical backstage banter until the script starts to oddly reflect reality. Words they just exchanged show up as their characters’ lines, and it rightfully freaks them out.
As the affable Roy, Sean Gabbert hits all the right comic beats and blends a young actor’s optimism with cynical sarcasm and suspicion. Damia Torhagen plays Deidre, the more confident and unquestioning of the pair, who downplays Roy’s creeping paranoia with hopeful naiveté. As the cast goes, it’s the strongest pairing.
Soon Roy and Deidre are joined by try-hard actor Trevor and earnest ingénue Nan. They all jockey for position in their mysterious director’s play and forthcoming film, responding to the foreboding portents of the script with a mix of indifference, paranoia, and Machiavellian ambition. Still, even with this novel plot device and backstage intrigue, there are plenty of moments that just hang there waiting for the other shoe to drop, either as a result of line flubs or actors simply going through the paces.
by Robert Kittredge
Directed by Lisa Hilling
Details and tickets
Things start to pick up when daffy director’s assistant Anne makes the scene. Pamela Kasenetz channels golden age Hollywood, 1930’s vaudeville, and Mel Brooks. Cackling and purring through her lines, she’s totally out of place with the lower-key troupe of actors…but she’s a campy delight nonetheless. Anne starts to manipulate the actors, playing them against each other in service of unseen director Bob’s wishes or her own unknown plot.
On this particular night, there were plenty of nerves and forgotten lines, and even a completely empty stage for 5 long seconds. Kasenetz dragged the action forward through force of will, and the other actors hit a groove as the action moved to Hollywood and the stakes jumped through the roof. As Nan, Dena Colvin delivers a moving monologue about her dreams of stardom, shortly before putting on a moustache and convincing everyone that she’s the director, in a lovely bit of comic absurdity. To be fair, it’s a pretty convincing moustache.
As Anne’s diabolical plan comes to fruition, the show builds to a delirious finale that creates more questions than it answers. Experimental needs some work to reach its full potential, but Kasenetz’s magnetic, gonzo act and the show’s clever concept make an entertaining evening for the more adventurous theater goer.