Life Upon the Wicked Stage

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


Show business deals in fables, and Theresa Rebeck deals in its foibles. The wise-cracking playwright has a sharp eye, and sharper ear, for the immature nonsense that makes the profession both frolicsome and infuriating for those in its clutches. (She created NBC series Smash.)

In “The Understudy,” now enjoying a fun and briskly-paced production at Lyndhurst under the auspices of M & M Performing Arts Company, the author posits Art and Commerce at opposite ends of the food chain. Guess which is the predator that feasts and which the easily-replaced plant life that gets eaten alive? 

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(From left) Michael Muldoon as Jake, Peter Lillo as Harry, Carly Jayne Lillo as Roxanne, with a baleful Franz Kafka auditing the rehearsal, in Theresa Rebeck’s “The Understudy.”

Directed crisply by Larry Schneider, the show runs Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday through July 26 in the Lyndhurst Carriage House Theater. The charming historic space (fully air-conditioned) benefits theatrically from a newly-installed stage at one end of what had been simply a large, open room. The so-called “black-box theater” dimensions afford a physical closeness between audience and actors you don’t experience in full-scale venues. (For tickets, call 1-888-71-TICKETS or visit http://www.lyndhurst.org.)


‘Bargain Basement Star’

In the course of a fitful rehearsal for a Broadway play, insecure actors Harry (Peter Lillo) and Jake (Michael Muldoon) lock horns — and lips — with jaded female stage manager Roxanne (Carly Jayne Lillo).

B-list movie actor Jake is both co-star with, and understudy for, the play’s headliner, whom we never see, but we hear a lot about him, none of it good. He is a Hollywood action-movie superstar pulling down a cool $22 million per film even though he’s “terrible.”

Talented but obscure Harry is the new understudy for Jake, a self-described “bargain basement star” coming off a blockbuster action movie for which he was paid $2.3 million for mouthing inspired dialogue like, “Get in the truck!”

Harry has a history with Roxanne she’s trying to forget and he’s trying to renew. He pulls neurotic Jake’s chain by insincerely praising his performance in the movie and in the play. In truth, Harry both resents and envies what he calls “talent-free” stars like Jake.     

Hollywood Reputations Die Hard

Ms. Rebeck leaves little doubt what real-life celebrity she has in mind — and has an oh-so-low opinion of — by transparently naming the superstar simply Bruce, who is the target of takedowns about his insufferable egocentricity.

Those attuned to show biz gossip will appreciate her choice of name because Hollywood actors’ reputations for being difficult and unlikable tend to, you might say, die hard. “Bruce is a big star,” says Roxanne, “which means there’s always a problem… “ 

(Coincidentally, in a plausible case of life imitating art, Bruce Willis is due to star on Broadway this November in a stage version of Stephen King’s “Misery,” which was a hit 1990 movie. That makes the conceit at play in “The Understudy” uncannily timely.)

The play within the play a work of unspecified title by literary giant Franz Kafka. Ms. Rebeck uses his trademark themes of alienation and dehumanization to weave in handy metaphors about actors being treated like bugs (“Metamorphosis”) and being mocked psychologically and financially (“The Trial”).

Rest assured all of this is played out with her very light but blunt touch, in her entertainingly velvet-hammer style.

‘They Pay You Not to Act’

“You have no rights, you’re an actor,” is typical of how she drives home the life of the typical performer, who couldn’t earn $22 million in several lifetimes, let alone for a single movie. Here she is on the hapless plight of an understudy: “No one will see you, you don’t exist. They pay you not to act.”

The trio of actors bring plenty of energy and stage presence to their respective roles.

Peter Lillo once again displays his consistent knack for smooth and easily relatable portrayals. He opens the show solo on stage, pulling us in to the story by both addressing the audience and half-muttering to himself about the frustrations of his current station in life.

Tall and handsome Michael Muldoon — who is half of M & M with wife Melinda O’Brien — cuts a sleek figure on stage as self-absorbed and preening Jake, coolly attired in all black, neurotically checking his cellphone to see if he was “booked” for the big movie role he covets to climb out of his second-rank rut.

Mr. Muldoon is a polished performer who makes strong choices about his character that keep the audience engaged and entertained.

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(from left) Michael Muldoon (Jake), Peter Lillo (Harry), Carly Jayne Lillo (Roxanne) star in “The Understudy” by Theresa Rebeck at Lyndhurst Carriage House.

Forceful Feline of a Stage Manager

Roxanne is the foil and the compass for both of the frustrated men in her backstage life. Carly Jayne Lillo (Peter Lillo’s real-life spouse) is a forceful feline of a stage manager whose job it is to make sure even the most hapless actors always land on their feet.

When Roxanne lets down her hair in a poignant moment of vulnerability and emotional distress, Mr. Lillo’s acting chops are fully evident as she tugs at our heartstrings using art rather than artifice.  

Theresa Rebeck does not spare in her cross-hairs the kind of theater-goer star-struck by seeing Hollywood names of mediocre talent on stage, yet less appreciative of great theater performed by gifted, no-name actors. One character bemoans the fact that “We care more about people coming in buses from New Jersey.”

And the zingers aimed at Bruce (who personifies crass Commerce) zip by with regularity: “Three hours of Kafka and they love it. Not because of Bruce. Bruce sucks in this play.” By the demanding yardstick of Theresa Rebeck, presumably her version of high praise for Bruce Willis in his upcoming “Misery” star turn on Broadway would be to proclaim that his performance “does not suck.” Neither will his paycheck.


The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck. With Carly Jayne Lillo Peter Lillo, Michael Muldoon*. Lyndhurst Carriage House Theater. Director, Larry Schneider. Stage Managers, Emmy Schwartz, Nan Weiss. Set Design & Construction, Floyd Gumble, Steve Aigner. Choreography, Jenn Haltmenn. Producers, Melinda O’Brien, Michael Muldoon. *Member of Actors Equity Association

For information about upcoming shows by M & M Performing Arts Company, visit http://www.MMPACI.com.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known by his nom de blog Bruce The Blog, owns and operates APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley agency for advertising, content, marketing and public relations. His professional affiliations include The Armonk Players, Axial Theater/Howard Meyer Acting, Burbio.com, Jefferson Valley Mall, New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, PinPoint Marketing & Design, Solo Sun Beatles & Jazz Instrumentals, The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Stage, Yorktown Organizations United. Follow APAR All-Media’s Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook and Twitter. Reach him at bapar@me.com.

The ‘Time’ of their (Embattled) Lives

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


As it has been doing for 18 years, The Armonk Players once again rewards audiences with expertly staged entertainment.

Directed by Pia Haas, Time Stands Still, by Pulitzer playwright Donald Margulies, cleverly coaxes us to think more reflectively about our own life choices, while challenging conventional wisdom about what is right and wrong.

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Tom Coppola (l, as James Dodd) woos girlfriend Amber Mason (as Sarah Goodwin) in The Armonk Players’ “Time Stands Still.” Photo by Ron Aaronson

Sitcoms are the sugar in our cultural diet. They satisfy our sweet tooth for instant gratification, for flights of fancy to release workaday stress.

Like our bodies, though, our minds cannot (or should not) thrive on sweets alone.

Lovingly crafted live drama gives us enriching and, yes, tasty protein to digest. It gives the ol’ gray matter a chance to flex while pumping ideas. 

A provocative example is Time Stands Still, currently on stage by The Armonk Players at North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Hall (Click here for more info.)

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Chillin’ at Chili’s

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog
By Bruce Apar

When Bruce The Blog Listens, People Talk


When I saw today on the Ziosk mini-screen atop the Chili’s bar that happy hour ended 6 p.m., panic was not far behind. It’s 5:45 already! Hurry up and take my order. But the bartender calmly informed me 6 p.m. applied solely to food. For 2-for-1 drinks, happy hour is “every day, all day.” Thinking earwax was clogging my canal, I said, “Wait just one minute, Missy. You mean to say your happy hour is 24/7?” Missy gently affirmed. Oh… my… guacamole! I thought I died and went to cielo.

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Two-for-one beers, wine, “well” mixed drinks (as in not premium brands), and classic margaritas are served at Chili’s round-the-clock.

Chili’s
Somers Commons Shopping Center
80 US-6, Baldwin Place 10505
(914) 621-0216

Since my mucho better half, Elyse, only goes one round at happy hour — though she lasts a lot longer when sparring with me — I commandeered one of her two classic margaritas, for starters; like Vegas used to do in its showrooms when you ordered a drink before the show began, Chili’s brings both drinks at once (for the price of one; $7.29 for a classic margarita). That refreshment didn’t last very long, and for a chaser, I ordered a Sam Adams summer ale (think positive!), and Bruce got two brews. That was $5.29. Not bad for a night’s work.

On the food side, we ordered the classic nachos, which we quickly noticed were prepared differently from the past in this establishment, much to our taste buds’ delight. Instead of the typical mountain of chips slathered in melted Velveeta cheese, these were separate triangles closer to quesadillas in texture and appearance. They are “Topped with 3-cheese blend, black beans, jalapeños & our Skillet Queso. Served with house-made pico de gallo & sour cream.”

We added beef and guacamole, both slightly extra. Cost for a regular size: $7.19. Bodily damages: a mere 1020 calories.

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Classic nachos are a welcome departure from the all-too-common Mount Velveeta that other places shove in front of you.

That should have been enough, but my eyes outsized my stomach, so I prevailed on my lady friend to also order the southwestern eggrolls. $8.49. Per the menu, they are… “Crispy flour tortillas stuffed with juicy smoked chicken, black beans, corn, jalapeño Jack cheese, chopped red peppers & spinach.

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Southwestern egg rolls do NOT have an MSG option. Nobody’s complaining.

Served with avocado-ranch sauce.” And only 800 calories, positively dietetic by Chili’s standards. After I ate one, with a dab of sour cream, we asked for a doggie styrofoam to take the rest home for weekend snacks in between sets at the gym.

Chili’s horseshoe bar is abuzz with a wide range of customers, which makes for constant people watching, if that’s your thing. We spotted our friend Robin Newhook across the bar, and she came over to catch up. Makes for a friendly, casual ambience, with plenty of room to move around. Or you can gaze at the array of flat screens above the din, tuned to sports and newsd.
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Array of flat screens are served free.

Part of the new Chili’s menu, we quickly discovered, is that none of the drinks are accompanied by prices. I get it. It lets them change the pricing at will, pegged no doubt to fluctuating barley futures and such.

About those hours: for food, happy hour pricing is 3-6 Monday-Friday, and also 9-close Monday-Thursday, plus all day Sunday. For drinks, happy hour is round-the-clock. Enjoy, but don’t overdo. That way, you’ll enjoy the morning after too.

 


SAFETY NOTE: Remember, if you intend to drive afterwards, keep any alcohol in your bloodstream safely below 0.08%, the legal limit above which you will be charged with Driving Under the Influence, or DUI, for both your own protection and that of others on the road. When in doubt what your blood alcohol level may be, err on the side of caution and stick to being a passenger.


Bruce Apar owns and operates APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley agency for advertising, content, marketing and public relations. Follow both APAR All-Media and Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook. Reach him at bapar@me.com.

Why Would Anyone Oppose A Sober Living Home?

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That’s not an easy question to answer unless you’re someone who opposes a sober living home. But Tom McCrossan, son Devon McCrossan and Mark McGoldrick of Compass Westchester explain to Bruce “The Blog” Apar and Frank J. Rich why they are establishing a sober living home in the pleasant middle-class burb of Yorktown Heights, New York, and how it will work.

New Year Revelations

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Success or Failure?Does your New Year resolve quickly dissolve into a puddle of promise unfulfilled?

It’s that time when the self-improvementniks among us resolve to make resolutions. Think about that word: re-solution. A chance to find new ways to do the right thing, and to do things right. A chance to reverse what you did not so well last year. A chance to make amends. A chance to change. A chance not to let bad things happen by chance, to assert your will to achieve, no matter how modest the victory. An effort to learn, and re-learn, from past mistakes.

It’s all, as they say, good. Or is it? Are resolutions really placebos? A form of self-foolery? A lazy cousin of “I think, therefore I am”? “I resolve, therefore I am a better person already!”

Come the dawn of a new year, less than half of Americans (40%) even bother to resolve anything. So reported Dan Diamond in a Jan. 1, 2013 article for Forbes Magazine (http://tinyurl.com/b423z2r). He cited research from the University of Scranton that “just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.” For everyone else, resolve dissolves into a puddle of promise unfulfilled.

If you extrapolate the above stats, among all Americans, 3.2% of us make whole on resolutions. For a proud people who boast of “exceptionalism,” not very exceptional. It’s not even pedestrian. It’s pathetic (this writer included; oh, I make ’em with the best of ’em, and I try hard to keep ’em, and every so often come close, but a resolver’s work is never done.)

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