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Larry Littany Litt


The Understudy

By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Susanna Fraser
Morningside Players Theater Co.
100 LaSalle St.
New York NY 10027
March 24 to April 8
Reviewed by Larry Litt April 7, 2023

Luke Hofmaier, William Franke, Lilli Hokama.
Photo courtesy Morningside Players.

Actors are immature idiots. Nothing new there. However there’s a fascination with actors’ lives that keeps us making them celebrities worth watching, admiring and pitying. Perhaps it’s because they’re so human in their failures and frustration. We can feel a sense ‘shadenfreude’ superiority at their deserved suffering. After all aren’t all actors egomaniacs?

These are some of the satiric questions asked in Theresa Rebeck’s comedy The Understudy. Human relationships are explored with a nasty knife in the back and a smile on the faces of the ensemble actors. Why oh why are actors so flaky with their lives?

Luke Hofmaier, William Franke, Lilli Hokama.
Photo courtesy Morningside Players.

One of the rewards of the acting life and career is getting cast in a legitimate play on Broadway. Newly hired understudy Harry, hilariously played as a lifelong nebbish and acting industry loser by William Franke, has been hired as the understudy for all the male actors in a Kafka play titled The Castle. Harry is elated to be working in the theater again. He needs the job for many reasons. One of which is his reentry into the actor’s life. Like most actors he loves the playing with words and actions. Motivations intrigue him. For every action there is a reaction. Just maintain the needed amount of energy, know the lines and what could go wrong? Harry will soon find out.

Movie star and high income actor Jake comes onto the stage to rehearse with Harry the new understudy. He’s totally arrogant, possessive of his role as second billing star and constantly bragging about his newest movie that earned 67 million in its first weekend. From the start he lords it over Harry. Luke Hofmaier’s Jake was an exercise in personal ego indulgence. His first condescending goal is to make Harry understand he’s nothing in the acting business. Jake’s recent movie income for basically repeating one hyper excited line was disgracefully huge by any standards. But that’s American show business we’re told. It’s what everyone wants.

Lilli Hokama. Photo courtesy Morningside Players.

Stage manager Roxanne arrives to work with Harry and Jake. She’s gruff, tough, no nonsense. Yet she has to care for the delicate egos of actors. She knows the game. She was an actor herself. Lili Hokama’s Roxanne is the most human character in this play of archetypes. She offers us the frustration of working with immature adults who are playing at something all the time. Harry and Jake can’t help themselves. Roxanne is their babysitter, mother, lover and moral compass all at once. Hokama’s Roxanne breathes life into this a hysterical backstage romantic comedy. Director Susanna Fraser provides us with a life lesson for anyone who aspires to or is in the theater.


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