‘Blame it on Beckett’ at Montgomery Playhouse at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn by Yvonne French

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Ever wonder what goes on–not behind the scenes–but beneath the surface of the performing arts? Such as what might have led to a Bolshoi Ballet star dancer’s conviction for throwing acid on the artistic director’s face, leaving him virtually blind?

Chris Hawkins (Mike), Linda Hirsch (Tina), Emily Sucher (Heidi), and Nick Sampson (Jim). Photo by David Jones.

Chris Hawkins (Mike), Linda Hirsch (Tina), Emily Sucher (Heidi), and Nick Sampson (Jim). Photo by David Jones.

Blame it on Beckett opens a window on that world, but in a seemingly tamer setting: that of a regional theater company in New England. Written by Maryland playwright John Morogiello, this smart satire was staged Off-Off-Broadway in 2011 and in L.A. in 2012. David Dossey directs a cast of four exceptional actors: Chris Hawkins, Linda Hirsch, Nick Sampson, and Emily Sucher.

The Beckett in the title refers to playwright Samuel Beckett, whose most notable work is Waiting for Godot (1953). Sparse and introspective, it features rambling dialog that goes in circles until it becomes delightfully absurd.

Blame it on Beckett features dramaturge Jim Foley (Nick Simpson), who selects plays by new authors to be performed at the theater. He blames Beckett that he can’t find a good script, although his desk is stacked with submissions.

“Don’t give me issues. Don’t give me experiments. Give me the perfect dramatic structure,” Jim says. Preferably, something with a plot.

Sampson portrays Jim as a cynic who rants about predictable programming, season ticketholders, big-name playwrights, the bottom line or anything else that might plague a regional theater company. Sampson executes these revealing monologs with a wry resignation.

Enter the ambitious Heidi Bishop with a graduate degree in dramaturgy. She works in the box office and finagles an internship with Jim, whom she fully intends to unseat.

Emily Sucher brings a predatory nature to the role, but masks it with authentic-seeming naiveté, making Heidi into a potentially dangerous character. She is good at projecting barely concealed emotions when the characters’ job prospects are in question.

Linda Hirsch portrays Tina Fike, the playwright whose work is currently being staged, as a grand dame whose past popularity is the ticket to the theater’s success. The production will move on to New York, which means that someone will get a job. Hirsch’s exchanges with Sampson are engaging, especially when she tells the story of an actor who shot and killed the wrong character.

Chris Hawkins plays Mike Braschi, the general manager who started as an usher and plans to go straight up to Broadway. He is believable as the only non-artist in the group, and his scenes with Sucher feel very natural, even when he explains how he did not, in legal terms, solicit sex from her.

But it is the interplay between Sucher and Sampson that has the potential to reveal the most about theater. They should be more competitive, show more teeth and claws, reveal their character by riffing off of each other, because when they do that it is with love and it is then that we know they are kindred in the dramatic arts.

The sound by Roger Stone included snippets of radio interviews during scene changes. The authentic-feeling set designed and dressed by BJ Angstadt featured a homey 1980s-era office. Props showcased a screened play poster from a previous show. Costumes by McKenna Kelly included a pair of red-soled Louboutin pumps for Heidi, and all went together very nicely.

Chris Hawkins (Mike) and Nick Sampson (Jim). Photo by David Jones.

Chris Hawkins (Mike) and Nick Sampson (Jim). Photo by David Jones.

You will only have yourself to blame if you miss Montgomery Playhouse’s excellent production of Blame it on Beckett.

Running time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

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Blame it on Beckett plays through January 26, 2014 at: The Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. Reservations can be made by calling: (301) 258-6394 or by purchasing them online.

Playwright John Morogiello.

Playwright John Morogiello.

Tomorrow, January 12th Playwright John Morogiello, director, and cast will hold a Q & A after the show.

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