May 6, 2011
I found it!
I often tell the story of the first "professional" show I ever did. I had just finished acting class, got my headshots, and excitedly auditioned for a play. Three months later, it opened to the following review in the Chicago Reader.
Suspension of DisbeliefBy Jennifer Vanasco
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF, Theatre o' th' Absurd, at the Chicago Actors Studio. It's heartbreaking when a small company puts on a truly awful show, because small troupes are the lifeblood of Chicago theater. But there's almost nothing to redeem Suspension of Disbelief, written and directed by John Linton Roberson. The play is violent, ridiculous (and not in a good, existentialist kind of way, which is clearly its aim), and mildly offensive: "faggoty" and "dyke" are both used to draw laughs. It's also stiffly acted and haltingly staged.
Rick Krassner is a struggling writer who may be on the verge of breaking into Hollywood: his vile agent has gotten him a meeting with a producer (Michele Alexander, in the production's only good performance). The twist is that the characters are compelled to commit murder, cannibalism, and other heinous acts by a director and playwright we never see. Only Rick comes to realize that they're all trapped in a play, a conceit that could be interesting. But Roberson is unsure of his message and seems to hate everything about the stage and screen. The director (an uncredited voice) is a martinet, the stagehands are bullies, the critics vacuous, and all the characters vicious and unredeemable.
This play was truly embarassing. I made the mistake of sending out a mass email, and my good friend's mother came (god bless her soul.) Needless to say, I apologozied profusely for it.
I could go on and on why it was so bad, but let's just say I had to start the play seated in the audience. For one of the previews, there were only two people were in the audience: my parents. Before the show started, I had to sit next to my father and pretend like I had just wet myself. Looking at my dad out of the corner of my eye, trying to "suspend the disbelief," I can only say I did not feel either like a man, or an actor. And I sorta don't think my father wanted me to be his son.
I initially googled this review because I saw a really bad play last week in LA and I was going to write about that. But now I've arrived at another point.
Do I regret doing this play?
I learned a number of things: how I could find purpose in a really bad script, how to show up for something I found difficult to embrace, how to deal with a writer/director who laughed at all his jokes.
But most of all, I learned how to choose a project carefully, and to protect my inner artist. The stage is sacred, and when we encounter people who write and produce work that doesn't have the right intentions behind it, when it can't speak to an audience, then we, as actors, are vain for choosing to participate in the telling of that story.
There's a lot of theater out there that isn't doing what it should for audiences. It's therefore the responsibility of actors and audiences alike to hold a high standard, because we need the theater to last. And to last, it has to be good.