Hidden in this Picture and The Guest Lecturer
Those who work in television and theatre have nightmares about their vocations like anyone else, though given the public nature of their enterprise they tend to imagine things going haywire on a grander scale. In its 2nd annual One-Act Festival, Miners Alley Playhouse has put together two such worst-case scenarios from the worlds of stage and screen.
In the first and shorter piece, Hidden in this Picture, by Aaron Sorkin, Robert (John Lodico) is a young director about to shoot the final scene in his first feature film. It's an epic sequence that Robert hopes will make the film a box-office hit.
As he coolly prepares to watch 634 actors march past his strategically-placed camera overseeing a glorious panorama, he is told by his production manager, Ruben (Pete Nelson), that the project is $6.5 million over budget and that he only gets one take at filming the scene. On top of this, Robert must navigate around his egotistical writer, Jeff (Kent Randall), and his vacuous assistant, CJ (Kellie Rae Rockey).
|Robert (John Lodico) and Jeff (Kent Randell)|
argue over the finer points of filmmaking.
For Sorkin, a successful playwright and screenwriter (A Few Good Men) as well as television writer and producer (The West Wing), this is familiar ground, yet he keeps it fresh with snappy dialogue, personal revelations, and unexpected turns.
Director Joe Wilson elicits generally well-measured and detailed performances from his cast, though at times the players seem to be so caught up in their own business they fail to listen to each other. Nevertheless, the piece manages to hang together, and Sorkin's punch line cleverly skewers the symbolism of pretentious art films.
In the second one-act, The Guest Lecturer by A.R. Gurney, the audience itself is cast as subscribers to a lecture series hosted by small family-owned theatre. The third-generation proprietress, Mona (Jan Cleveland), has found a unique, though deadly, means of drumming up business, unbeknownst to those she invites to deliver the talks, in this case a Ph.D. candidate in theatre named Harley (Chris Bleau).
|Mona (Jan Cleveland) reads from|
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra over
the ritually sacrificed body
of Harley (Chris Bleau).
As the situation unfolds and the guest lecturer's awareness of his hosts' hidden agenda develops, Mona begins to soften toward Harley, forcing her partner in crime, Fred (Wade Livingston), to step in and get the mysterious rites back on track. All the while, the emotional vicissitudes of the story are mocked by a piano accompanist (Rafael Lopez).
Gurney's works (Sylvia, The Cocktail Hour, Love Letters, The Dining Room, Later Life, The Perfect Party, et al.) are known for their tangy blend of erudition and comedy, and The Guest Lecturer is sprinkled with allusions to theatre history that offer humorous parallels to the action taking place before us.
However, the characterizations are an uneven blend of melodrama and realism—sometimes confusing the sublime with the absurd, sometimes falling back on behavioral clichés that undermine believability.
Thus the two one-acts offer some genuinely funny and intellectually stimulating moments deflated here and there by directorial choices and performance issues.
Hidden in this Picture and The Guest Lecturer run through September 18th. 303-935-3044.