Archikulture Digest

The Understudy

The Understudy

By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Mark Brotherton

UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL</strong>

If you want a bit of Kafka in your life, try attending a college theater presentation on Big Game Day. It’s the complete “Abusive Authority with No Recourse to Logic” experience. The McGuffin here is the presentation of a previously unknown Kafka play on Broadway; financed by some big time action movie stars with only one name like “Bruce” or “Jake”. You can estimate who they might be but no matter; the premise is good enough to make you wish Kafka had actually written an action film. Unknown Harry (Colton Butcher) passed an audition to understudy for Jake (Terry Farley); Jake most recently made $2.3 million for yelling “Get in the truck!” three times. Everyone knows Harry will never get on stage; the Jersey busses are full of tourists demanding stars and to hell with plot. Harry and Jake start out on a bad foot; Harry thinks movie actors are overpaid and have no talent, and Jake thinks understudies, are well, mere understudies who will never take the stage. They fight, they emote and they have common female issues with stage manager Roxanna (Helena Whittaker). But once they finally get to work, Jake quickly finds Harry is actually good and can teach him more than a few things. Now there’s just that ex-girl friend stage manger to motivate away.

This is the sort of internal mediation that theatre people love. The Kafka scene is a replica of each actor’s individual experience. You may think you’re goad, and maybe you are, but there’s always someone telling you otherwise. Butcher emits that just-on-the-edge craziness that may be channeled anywhere so long as he “feels” it while Farley’s Jake is arrogant and smooth, he’s just a step above craft table dining and can almost feel the promotion to his own trailer. He just can’t carry the show on his own, marquee-wise. Neglected Ms. Whittaker has the lowest status of all as well as the hardest job: she has to get people to do what they should but don’t, not until they “feel” ready to. I pity the stage manger, but I also don’t believe that they shouldn’t carry firearms. Looming over this dark action is a gorgeous set: a distorted cathedral and a double action revolving stage overshadow the actors and fill the small room. This black box set would be the envy of much larger companies. Noticeable in the program is a bit of Meta from director Brotherton as well, each actor has an understudy. I hope they all get some stage time, but I’m not holding my breath.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit

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