nytheatre.com review by Clinton Orman
January 29, 2011
The Director, directed by Richard Hymes-Esposito and written by Nancy Hasty, focuses on an intense and perhaps manipulative director and his interaction with five desperate, broke actors. How far will they let themselves be pushed in the name of a good performance?
When the play begins, the writer Annie encounters a man in the building where she is working on a play. She believes she previously met him when she was a student. This is the Director, Peter, who is currently a janitor in the building and uses it overnight to work with actors. Annie had been impressed when he spoke at her college and comes off gushing, almost infatuated with him. When he reads her play he is impressed and reluctantly agrees to direct—with a warning: she, and everyone involved, must be willing to indulge him and his unorthodox methods without question.
I liked the play best in its first scenes. When the Director character is introduced, he tells Annie that he works with actors overnight in the warehouse—doesn’t direct, he gave that up long ago, but “works with actors.” This sparked my curiosity—what is he doing with or to these people in there in the wee hours? We never find out; instead we go forward with Annie’s play, auditioning actors in a comedic scene. This scene plays well, centered on a ruse humiliating one actor who is actually already hired and a second goofus actor who loves the ruse and is over-eager to sign on but is rejected and humiliated for real.
I think I liked these scenes because the tone was uncertain and leaning toward comedy. As the play continued it became uncertain and leaving toward the serious, which didn’t work as well. Charles Casano, playing the director, is not as scary and imposing as it seems he should be. This seems to be due to both the performance and the writing, which both seem to lean slightly toward camp but never embrace it.
Casano’s performance projects a kind of cartoonish villain. He is constantly demanding whether the actors are willing to embrace his unconventional methods and exercises to reach their utmost performance. But the methods we see are not all that scary; in fact the actors seem to be over-reacting when they freak out and threaten to walk off. Also, the sadistic exercises do nothing to develop the characters of those involved, which to me is missing one of the integral parts of this kind of power-drama.
There are some ironic twists and turns which add an element of weirdness and mystery, but I feel they would have been more effective if the mystery were played up in a more “B-Movie” kind of style. Rocky Friedman Vargas, playing Annie, seems to me to give the truest emotional performance, and Greg Engbrecht, playing the dorky actor Barney, the most comedic.
The play has some interesting ideas but as I stated I think it went in the wrong direction. I think the actors did a fine and competent job—for a dark comedy, and not a self-serious drama.