Celebration Theater’s Fast, Funny “NIGHTMARE”

by Michael Schwartz

If you’ve ever dreamed of being onstage when you don’t know your lines, have never rehearsed, and have never even heard of the play you’re supposed to be performing, then you’re familiar with the traditional “actor’s nightmare.” Celebration Theater in Lansdowne takes on Christopher Durang’s singularly twisted variation on every actor’s worst nightmare in the brief one-act THE ACTOR’S NIGHTMARE. Despite a few instances of static blocking and slow pacing, Celebration Theater gives us a brisk and funny mishmash of clashing theatre history, acting styles, and, since it’s Durang, Catholic guilt.

(L-R) Kristin Allard, Belinda M. Wilson, Dominic DeAngelo, Terry Baraldi and David Warren Campbell in Celebration Theater's production of THE ACTOR'S NIGHTMARE, running in Lansdowne, PA through April 17.

The hero is billed as George Spelvin, which is the first of Durang’s many, many inside theatrical jokes, as “George Spelvin” (sometimes “Georgina”) is the traditional pseudonym used in programs to avoid double-billing, or sometimes to fool the audience into thinking that a character who never appears onstage will appear. Durang’s Spelvin is a hapless everyman (and lapsed Catholic) who has found himself in his PJ’s getting the 15-minute call for places for what appears to be a performance of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. The problem is that George is not an actor, but an accountant, and he’s only vaguely familiar with the play, and that, as they say, is only the beginning. As theatrical luminaries Henry Irving, Sarah Siddons, and Dame Ellen Terry flit by with words of encouragement, impatience, and, occasionally, the right line for poor George to speak, the confusions, anachronisms, and plots pile up with increasing frenzy as the hero must abruptly shift from Coward to Shakespeare to Beckett and finally to the world of Robert Bolt’s historical tragedy A Man for All Seasons. Since the hero of Bolt’s play is Sir Thomas More, who defied King Henry VIII and paid for the defiance with his life, George is in grave danger, unless it’s all a crazy dream…

Durang’s play demands and rewards knowledge of the plays into which George is thrust, so Cassy Pressimone Beckowski’s concise program notes could prove very useful to you before the show. But even if you miss a reference or two (or twenty), the cast, under Clare Conroy Hughes’ inventive direction, will guarantee a good time. Dominic Deangelo is aces as Durang’s lost Spelvin, hilariously trying to go with what’s thrown at him and nicely underplaying the character’s panic. In turn, Terry Baraldi, Belinda Wilson, Kristin Allard, and David Warren Campbell prove a merry band of pranksters, with Allard especially funny in the theatre of the absurd segment as she careens somewhere between Endgame and Happy Days with Beckettian bleak optimism.

Durang might have something deeper in mind other than madcap theatrical burlesque. One could make a case for examining Spelvin’s journey as he proceeds in character from frivolity (the Coward play) to contemplating suicide (Hamlet) to living in a godless and meaningless universe (the Beckett segment) to finally being willing to sacrifice himself for the Catholic Church (as Sir Thomas More). For those of you doing a paper on Durang’s Catholic imagery, consider that a good start. For the rest of you, I’d suggest seeing Celebration Theater’s THE ACTOR’S NIGHTMARE and laughing your butts off for 45 minutes.

by Christopher Durang
Directed by Clare Conroy Hughes
April 1-3, 8-10, and 16-17, 2011
Celebration Theater at the Twentieth Century Club
84 S. Lansdowne Ave.
Lansdowne, PA

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