The unseen journey that a theatrical production must take as it moves from the rehearsal room to what a paying audience sees on the stage — complete with lights, costumes, props, sound, special effects and the full integration of the stage manager’s cues — can be measured in terms of days. It is a crucial transitional phase, known in the trade as “tech” (as in “technical rehearsal”), and is an alternately grueling and tedious process. And for those employed by theaters operating under an Actors Equity contract, the work rules are quite precise: The performers must be prepared to work a 12-hour day with a mandatory two-hour dinner break.
‘10 Out of 12’
When: Through April 23
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets: $12 – $70
Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one intermission
This is one of the things audiences will learn as they become firsthand witnesses to the real-time process as it unspools in Anne Washburn’s play, “10 Out of 12,” now receiving its Midwest debut at Theater Wit. The play, which must be as fiendishly difficult to direct as it is to act — not to mention how crazy-making it must be for both the show’s actual stage manager and her theatrical doppelganger — is a most intriguing “inside baseball” sort of exercise. But that is not the same thing as saying it is “a great play.”
Anyone who has ever been caught up in the nightmare that tech rehearsals can be, will easily recognize the scene. The description that comes to mind is the one often applied to war, with its “periods of immense boredom followed by moments of extreme terror.” But while those in search of a seamless, highly polished show might be amused for a half hour here, ultimately they might feel frustrated, particularly because the pseudo-Victorian gothic play being “produced” is heard only in fragments, and (as Washburn might be playfully suggesting ) not even be worth producing.
The Theater Wit production (subtly “customized” by Washburn to infuse it with a Chicago theater quality), has been directed by Jeremy Wechsler. And he certainly has nailed the atmosphere, with both his cast and real-life crew doing a yeoman’s job at suggesting the delicate egos, quirks and snacking habits of all those involved, as well as the countless little details involving the perfecting of set-changes, the placement of props, the fit of costumes, and the countless artistic adjustments desired by both the director and actors.
Much of this involves overhearing the “offstage” chatter of the designers and technical crew through a pair of headphones worn by each of the 98 members of the audience, and brief bits of pre-recorded chatter comes by way of such Chicago personalities as John Mahoney (the most easily recognizable voice, and the drollest of the bunch), Martha Lavey, Barbara Robertson and Peter Sagal.
Serving as Director of the play being rehearsed — with its titillating bits of sexual and class tension, as well as some otherworldly horror — is Shane Kenyon, who deftly captures his character’s acerbic, jaded, at moments pretentious attitude. Dado, the veteran Chicago actress and director, is the harried but solid Stage Manager. And “the players” who must do a lot of waiting around include Kyle Gibson, as an actor who plays a possibly closeted homosexual character; Christine Vrem-Ydstie as the young female lead; Eunice Woods (excellent as both an old crone and a stylish courtesan); Gregory Fenner as a young, enthusiastic actor; and Stephen Walker as Paul, the older, wildly self-aggrandizing actor who would like to rewrite much of the play. Adam Shalzi is amusing as the nerdy young assistant director, with Erin Long as the busy assistant stage manager and Riley McIlveen as the electrical guy.
Adam Veness has designed a spectacular curiosity box of a set (expertly lit by Diane Fairchild) that conjures both the lushly wallpapered Victorian interiors of the play-within-a-play and the messy “real theater” aisles and working spaces that are part of tech.
If the tech for an actual production were to go this way the show might well have to postpone its opening date. But this is the comedy of theater life — a life that, more often than not, is driven by urgency, rigor and absolute professionalism. As one of the characters in “Shakespeare in Love” remarks: “Strangely enough, it all turns out well.”