Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The Immortal Coil" - Revenge with a flourish

By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Derek Barbanti

Erasmus Bernstein (John Michalski) is a playwright who was the voice of his generation.  A Salinger-like personage, he has finally written his next play, a sequel to his earlier work, and he's ready to unveil it to the world.  All he needs is a young actor who can hit his marks and recite his lines.  Erasmus doesn't really seem to like actors that much, especially the ones who want to know what their motivations are and to understand the inner workings of the characters they are portraying.

At first, the eager young Benji seems like he might fit the bill.  Awestruck and thrilled to be working with Bernstein, he has a chance to play a character he idolized in his youth.  But an actor's training will come through, and Benji starts asking questions.  And for a "stand there and say my lines" playwright, that's just too much.

Needless to say, the collaboration is short-lived and disastrous.

Years later, Benjamin, now a movie star about to direct a play he's written about the encounter, gets to reframe that meeting with Bernstein, and not surprisingly, he casts himself in the hero's role.

But Bernstein, or rather, his ghost, isn't about to let him get away with that without a fight.

Deftly and humorously written by J.B. Heaps, "The Immortal Coil" shines a light on the theatre and the egos that inhabit it, while also questioning the nature of art and life (and, I suppose, afterlife).  Heaps' dialog is crisp, with an insider's view of some of the follies of theatrical endeavors.

Eric Kuehnemann makes a wonderful Benji.  His monologue at the beginning of the play is equal parts bravado and nervous self-doubt.  As the older and much more successful Benjamin, he is all ego and smarm.

John Michalski cuts an imposing figure at the cantankerous Bernstein.  An odd mix of modesty and contempt, his Bernstein is a man whose work you'd love the see, but you probably wouldn't want to hang out with him afterwards.

The two have good chemistry, and spark off each other during the more dramatic moments.  Though occasionally their timing seems a bit off (it could have been opening night jitters), when they mesh, they mesh well.

Tony Del Bono and Spencer Wilson, who play the actors cast in Benjamin's play as the ersatz Bernstein and Benji, are amusingly catty and do a great job showing their characters' slavish devotion to their movie star boss.  When Benjamin begins interacting with the (to them) unseen and unheard Bernstein, the two actors assume it is an exercise of some sort, allowing Del Bono and Wilson to show off their comic chops.

Direction by Stephen Jobes is strong, especially in the second act.  At times the earlier scenes feel like they need a little tightening up, though again, it was opening night.

The play is light on design elements; it takes place in a black box theatre and doesn't need much in the way of sets or props.  Annie R. Such creates an efficient lighting design, and Kevin Hastings and Bill Lacey do quite well with the sound design (the play starts in darkness with a critical recording that is referenced throughout the play).

Heaps' play is a humorous rumination on life and theatre, with interesting characters, and well worth checking out.

The Immortal Coil
By J.B. Heaps
Directed by Stephen Jobes
Associate Producer/Lighting: Annie R. Such
Stage Manager: Mary Linehan
Public Relations: Andrea Alton
Sound Specialists: Kevin Hastings and Bill Lacey
Graphics/Props: Rudy James
Featuring: Tony Del Bono, Eric Kuehnemann, John Michalski and Spencer Wilson

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