I’ve always hated reality television. I make no excuses about this fact. Don’t try to convert me. It won’t end well. No, I won’t come to your screening of Real Housewives. When my co-workers start discussing 19 Kids and Counting, I change the subject or leave the room. I nearly declined a role when I found out that the character was a reality television writer in the show Cut.
Cut performs this weekend at the Greenbelt Arts Center. It is the story of three scriptwriters for a reality television series. During the course of the play the strengths, weaknesses and secrets of the characters are exposed, developed and explored. The play unfolds like a reality television episode. There are flashback scenes and “talking head” confessionals. The three characters are simultaneously protagonists and antagonists. Producer Maria Adali observes that the play uses clichés to tell an entirely new story. Playwright Crystal Skillman wrote Cut in 2011. It’s a very contemporary show, but it encompasses classic themes: ambition, love, fidelity, loyalty, and trust.
So why are we telling this story? What is important about the sheltered, Hollywood glamorous lives of television writers? Why should anyone care? In the words of Director Rick Starkweather, “It is a clever adaptation. It reminds us that we can still enjoy the drama we love on television in the artistic and intimate setting of live theatre.” It’s a perfect blend of highbrow and lowbrow culture. We have a chance to bring the trashy schadenfreude of reality television into a new and biting theatrical dramedy.
According to Rick, “The show is about reality. It’s about the reality of the three characters.” The three characters are
1) Danno (played by Jeff Robert), a frazzled story editor for Ladies of Malibu who is harboring guilt over leaving his younger sister with absentee hippie parents
2) Colette (played by Kenny Hahn), an ambitious young story logger who is obsessed with the cast of Ladies of Malibu and having problems with her unsupportive boyfriend and
3) Rene (played by me), a former award-winning playwright who is now writing for reality television and trying to salvage a failing marriage.
These characters are damaged and harsh, but they’re also hopeful and nurturing. They truly embody the best and worst of television writers.
One of the most difficult aspects of this show was conveying the shifts in time. In Cut, all the action takes place within a six-week period. Most of the action takes place here and now, today. However, there is a scene from six weeks ago when Danno first meets and hires Colette. Other scenes take place three weeks ago and several days ago. Lighting Director Tommy Zanner has created different lighting colors to indicate the shift in time. White lights indicate the present time. Tommy uses colorful lighting to indicate the various other times. He has divided the stage into six distinct areas. There are no set changes, just separate areas for individual settings.
In addition to acting, I took on the role of Sound Designer. The majority of the sound design entailed selecting music for pre-show, intermission and scene transitions. The play consists of 13 different scenes, and none of them are chronologically consecutive. I approached the sound design as a way to depict the major themes of the play and each of the three characters. There are songs about writing, songs about losing oneself to the Hollywood lifestyle and songs about love and loss. Most of the songs are fairly contemporary. There are also songs for each character: pop and hip-hop music for Colette, indie rock for Danno and lighter alternative and classic rock for Rene.
Kenny Hahn is hilarious as Colette. I adore her humor and her comic timing. Colette and Rene have a tumultuous relationship. Rene saves Colette’s job, but Rene has trouble admitting that she actually likes Colette. Colette is desperate for Rene’s approval, but she doesn’t know how to handle Rene’s businesslike attitude. Kenny and I have spent hours analyzing the relationship between these two women. Rene protects Colette, perhaps because her maternal instincts extend to Colette. Colette looks to Rene as a mentor. Yet they squabble like bickering siblings. In Skillman’s dialogue, Colette announces, “I am like autistic-ly detailed-oriented bitch.” This obsessive-compulsive attention to detail is an asset when she is logging all footage of the “Ladies of Malibu,” but Colette doesn’t know how to respect her co-workers’ privacy. Colette begins to unravel the facades that Rene and Danno present. This leads to a major showdown at the end of the first act and leaves us wondering how these characters can move on from the emotional injuries they have inflicted on one another.
Jeff Robert’s Danno is the kind of person who falls into management but doesn’t know what to do with the responsibility. Jeff describes Danno as “a very stressed individual with family problems.” It doesn’t help that he has to supervise Rene whom he nearly hero-worships because of the play she wrote years ago. Jeff described to me how he tried to put himself in Danno’s world. He researched the part by watching documentaries about creating reality television. Danno is an unlikely hero, an unusual leading man. He started working in reality television when he couldn’t make it as an actor but showed the studio executives that he knew how to edit their reality television storylines. Danno wonders what happened to his acting talents and his drive to make it as a performer. In one scene, Danno tells the audience “You used to be so good. You used to care. Good acting is getting to the truth of the lie…. Reality is written. Reality is planned.” That line is a pivotal point of the play, and it’s a vital part of the story we’re telling. Is our reality only what others see? Is it what we choose to show? There are deeper questions here. I don’t have the answer to them. I hope the audience will ponder these themes as they leave the theatre.
And Rene? It was a joy to discover that I actually liked her. At first read-through, I found her detached and uncaring. She is brusque, business-like and efficient, but she loves her daughter and tries desperately to save her marriage. She rescues Colette by assuming responsibility for one of Colette’s mistakes. Rene has a compassionate, selfless side. In the first scene, she is reeling from a last-minute trip to London. Her husband, Peter, is in London for an acting fellowship. He called her several days ago to issue a “last chance” ultimatum. She immediately flew out to see him, but they didn’t resolve their relationship. During one scene, Rene calls Peter. She knows he has been unfaithful, and she hears another woman in the background. “I hear her laughing in the…Who’s this one? What’s her name?” Worst of all, Danno overhears part of the conversation. Danno’s reaction is a turning point in his and Rene’s relationship.
That’s the fundamental nature of this show: the relationships between these three characters and the people in their lives. Even though the audience never meets the “Ladies of Malibu,” Colette’s boyfriend, Rene’s husband or Danno’s sister, we come to understand who they are and how they shape the damaged souls on stage. What happens to these relationships at the end of the play? I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that some of these answers depend on the audience’s interpretation.
Cut is presented by Thunderous Productions and plays January 4, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. and January 5, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at the Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. Purchase tickets online.
This performance contains strong language and is not suitable for children under 13.