The play’s the thing… wherein I hope to remember all of my lines, not fall flat on my face, and hopefully receive at least a vague smattering of applause. That’s right – this humble Artsweek writer somehow, through a series of happy accidents, found himself in the cast of an actual UCSB play, and I’m here to report the life on the other side of the fourth wall ain’t all glamour and glitz, folks.
The show I’ve been elected to embarrass myself in is an assemblage of four one-acts, collectively titled “An Evening of Pretension.” It runs 11/8 through 11/10 at the Studio Theatre in Snidecor Hall. Shows start at 8 p.m., and admission costs $0.00 (i.e. it’s free). The performances will showcase UCSB’s hottest (both artistically and physically) undergraduate directing talent. The Dramatic Arts Dept. faculty handpicked four promising prospects – Jayme Kilburn, Dan LeFranc, Sara Martinovich and Lesley Robin – and sat them in director’s chairs to run the show. The results may entertain and impress you.
Having very little acting training or experience myself, I was thrilled upon hearing that I had been cast in one of the plays. As I looked at my name posted on the cast list, I envisioned myself on stage on opening night in a black turtleneck, contemplating poor Yorick’s skull held aloft in my right hand. I then imagined myself sitting opposite James Lipton at the Actors Studio, announcing to an audience of scarfed and bespectacled aspiring thespians that my favorite curse word is “fartknocker.”
I had high hopes, but my dreams of stage stardom were quickly dashed. There is more to acting than wearing costumes and making funny faces, and the magic of theater can, unfortunately, only happen after countless hours of hard work. I was brought back down to earth after receiving comments from my director during rehearsals, such as, “You’re worthless,” “Do you have a speech impediment? When you talk it sounds like you’re missing a chunk of your tongue,” “Do you own a comb? You clearly don’t know how to part your hair,” and “Do you know what you did wrong in that last scene? Everything.” I can now understand why actors are so self-conscious.
And indeed, my current theater experience has me occupying a whole new level of self-consciousness. Several weeks ago, I didn’t own a comb. Now, I spend at least half-an-hour a day perfecting the part in my hair with said comb in one hand and a carpenter’s level in the other. I wander around campus all day repeating tongue twisters like, “Weak writers want white ruled writing paper,” trying to overcome my severe diction problem. Instead of taking notes during lectures, I scribble my lines from the play over and over in my notebooks, incising them in my brain.
After weeks of suffering the slings and arrows of the rehearsal process, the kinks have (please God please God please God) all been ironed out and the show is ready to go on. The one-act I am a part of is “W.A.S.P.” by Steve Martin (America’s sharpest satirist and essayist, and, oh yeah, a guy who’s been in a few movies). His surreal one-act comedy examines what goes on beneath the surface in a seemingly sunny 1950s suburban family.
“W.A.S.P.” isn’t the only one-act in the “Evening of Pretension” written by a highbrow wit. The first play of the show is “After Magritte” by Tom Stoppard. “Magritte” serves up enough British humor to make your knees sore from slapping them so damn much, and is even more agonizing if you’re the kind of person who reflexively slaps his or her knees anyway. “Women and Wallace,” directed by Sara Martinovich, is a feast for the eyes with its elaborate choreography, and features a heartfelt portrayal of Wallace by actor Mike Phillis – it will be the best performance you’ll see on a UCSB stage this year, unless you see one that is better. The final one-act of the evening, Harold Pinter’s “One for the Road,” will exhibit, in the words of director Jayme Kilburn, “Torture.” But in a good way.
So, if you value arrogance, a snide attitude, or non-actors pretending with all their might to be Shakespearean (or Martinian as the case may be), then slip into your sauciest smoking jacket, bring a pack of Djarum to puff on at the intermission, and come down to the Studio Theatre this weekend – it’s time to get pretentious.