For many years, I have been hoping to bring Theresa Rebeck and her work to Roundabout, and I’m thrilled to finally have this opportunity to share her wit and wisdom with you through The Understudy. Theresa has long been one of our most prolific and gifted contemporary playwrights. What sets Theresa apart is not just the simple humanity of her characters and the impeccable structure in each individual play, but the scope of her work and her no-fear approach to tackling different genres. She has written the comedies Spike Heels and Bad Dates, the modernized Greek tragedy The Water’s Edge, the thriller Mauritius, and the post-9/11 political satire Omnium Gatherum, co-authored with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. While so many writers are easily pigeon-holed, Theresa continues to be absolutely surprising with each new project, defying definition while maintaining high quality. This is no easy feat, but Theresa pulls it off with aplomb.
The Understudy could be considered Theresa’s “backstage” play. The story takes us into rehearsal for a hit Broadway show, in which a hot action movie star (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is trying to make his mark and the new understudy’s (Justin Kirk) tangled past with the stage manager (Rebeck veteran and Tony-winner Julie White) leads to trouble both hilarious and heart-breaking. Best of all, the play they’re working on is a long-lost Franz Kafka masterpiece. Needless to say, though no one morphs into a giant cockroach, this simple rehearsal gets very complicated.
Director Scott Ellis (Roundabout’s Associate Artistic Director) has been with this play from the very beginning, when he staged a reading of it here in May of 2008. My artistic partnership with Scott has long been one of the most rewarding in my career. With work at Roundabout including Streamers, Twelve Angry Men, 1776, and She Loves Me, Scott is always a strong guiding force for a production, and I know that he will bring ingenuity to the funny, fantastical world that Theresa has created in The Understudy.
Bringing you new plays from established playwrights is an important part of Roundabout’s mission, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to share the newest work from one of our best modern writers on the Laura Pels Theatre’s stage. With a new play, it is always particularly interesting to hear your thoughts on the production, so I hope that you’ll continue to share your opinions with me on this blog.
I look forward to seeing you at the theater!
2009-2010 Season, The Understudy