‘How I Paid for College’ at The Hub Theatre by Francine Schwartz

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The Hub Theatre should be the first stop in a long run for How I Paid for College – a ‘monologsical’ written by Marc Acito, based on his award-winning novel of the same name, and starring Alex Brightman in a tour de force performance. Acito describes the story of his youth (which at times seems misspent) as “Just true enough to be embarrassing to my family.” This play definitely needs a larger theater as it was filled to capacity, partly due to the number of ex-pat New Jersey folks in the area.

Alex Brightman (Edward Zanni). Photo by Melissa Blackall Photography.

How I Paid for College focuses on 17-year old Edward Zanni, a graduating senior. He prides himself on always being chosen as the leading man in high school theater productions but his desire to go to Julliard is opposed by his businessman father. He redirects his juvenile highjinks toward acquiring the tuition and rapidly concludes that his inept performance on a variety of jobs confirms that he is destined to be an actor. Despite his misadventures in NYC prior to his audition, he is accepted!!! Emergency measures are required. Together with his wacky theater friends, in a misguided show of teamwork,  he proceeds to fund a scholarship for himself with funds stolen from his step-mother’s stash. Maybe he should reconsider his rejection of a business career? Well, the show is evidence that he eventually overcame all obstacles, but I will not spoil the experience by spilling all the beans here… except that there are series of encounters with a green Buddha lawn statue – ‘the ugliest lawn ornament’ – which he encounters on a trip to ‘Cramptown.’ What that poor statue is put through is hysterical! More laughter and disbelief ensues as we are introduced to the ‘creative vandalism’ that he and his friends pursue in the summer of 1983.

I was reassured by a neighbor at the play that the book was true to life, and as a fan of novels set in New Jersey (this show takes place in Wallingford, NJ), a genre I had not previously known, he was expecting more of the same. And we were both delighted by the cascade of laughs, abundant irony, and good comedic timing by Mr. Brightman.

Alex Brightman is not only delightful as Edward Zanni, but he’s also a master of multiple dialects. Lucky for him Director Helen Pafumi is a dialect coach for George Mason University’s theatre program. Brightman also does a great impersonation of Bruce Springsteen (there’s a New Jersey reference) on the guitar (“Derivative Bruce Song”) and gives new meaning to his version of “Up in the Air.”

Scenic Designer Kristen Morgan and Lighting Designer Jimmy Lawlor collaborated on a stunning single set which evolved into multiple backdrops for the restless protagonist. Matthew Nielson provided the excellent sound.

How I Paid for College, published in 2004 is said to have inspired High School Musical and Glee. Marc Acito received the Helen Hayes’ Charles MacArthur Award for his comedy Birds of a Feather, produced last year at The Hub Theatre. He is the co-book writer of the Broadway-bound musical Allegiance, and has also adapted E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View – so expect to see a lot more of this young talent.

For a delightfully fun time in the theatre, don’t miss The Hub Theatre’s How I Paid for College!

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

How I Paid for College plays through December 30, 2012 at The Hub Theatre at John Swayze Theatre – 9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or call (800) 494-8497.