Ears On and Noises Off 

The RehEARsal highlights the improvement of Transparent Theater.

Theater scholars are bitterly divided on the Lubbeck Dilemma -- was Hungarian Alexander Lubbeck a brilliant playwright, or a vodka-soaked poseur? Complicating the question is the fact that Lubbeck didn't finish a single play. Obsessed with giant, disembodied features and women named Katarina, he might have done Kafka one better, had he not starved himself to death after murdering several people with a scythe.

Director Oscar King saw the genius in Lubbeck's The Ear, a story about a beet farmer who trades his prize cow for a giant ear, and assembled a cast that includes leading Lubbeck scholar David Jenkins and several veterans of the drawing-room comedies More Tea, Vicar? and T Is for Tea. Now he just has to get them all on the same page, a task that proves nearly as difficult as explaining the presence of a giant ear in Pavel and Katarina Poeck's humble home. Two weeks before opening, King's actors are mutinous, and King himself hasn't finished writing the play's last scene. Will The Ear make it to opening night at the Invisible Theatre in one piece?

Commissioned especially for Transparent Theater, Mark Chappell and Alan Connor's The RehEARsal is what Michael Frayn's Noises Off might have been, if Frayn were more interested in character development and less in broad farce. The RehEARsal is definitely an homage, but where Noises Off gets its laughs from people running around with their pants falling down, The RehEARsal is funny because it delves deeper. Here is the Jekyll-and-Hyde director, who starts out warm and encouraging but eventually turns into a predatory tyrant. Here is the earnest dramaturge-turned-actor, trying to drink an onstage vodka consistent with the different translations of the play he's read -- should he do the shot angrily per the Hamilton, or morosely per the Dalamann? Meanwhile relationships are rocky, there's plenty of sexual tension to go around, and several actors are on the verge of quitting the show altogether.

This "one-act play in three acts" starts out with a rehearsal two weeks before the show opens, when the cast is still excited. The second act covers a tech week rehearsal and the steady deterioration of nerves, and the third act is opening night of The Ear, which has gone so far off the rails that it's turned into something entirely different from what the imaginary Lubbeck must have planned. The RehEARsal is wild and witty, even if it bogs down in the third act when the "actors" get serious about the play-within-a-play.

Director Tom Clyde has cast a strong ensemble of familiar and new faces. Deep Space's Jason Frazier is easygoing Danny, who lays floors during the day and acts for fun at night, while David Austin-Gröen and Lucy Owen are back from Eternity Is in Love with the Productions of Time as actor and morgue assistant Steve and punkish, put-upon stage manager Felicity. Newcomer Mary Unruh's Lily is both sweet and snide as she tries to soften director Oscar (the perfectly wild-haired and wild-eyed David Sinaiko) and the hilariously self-centered actor Nikolai (Elijah Berlow), who takes it upon himself to tell everyone else how to do their jobs. Paul Silverman, who is often cast as a nebbish who gets strong, makes his Transparent debut as David, the nebbish who has to get strong to keep his woman Penny (Bridgette Raynolds-Parry), who meanwhile faces a dilemma all too common to professional actors -- take the day job, or face a dwindling selection of good female roles as she ages?

Speaking of which, The RehEARsal suggests that artistic director Clyde is getting better at directing women. His previous Golden State and Eternity Is in Love ... (both Clyde-written and directed) seemed oddly flat on the distaff side. Perhaps this script is better built for women, but these female characters are a lot stronger, more dimensional, and more interesting. The overall handling of the most people Transparent's stage has yet seen is also much more engaging, well-paced, and confident. Although The RehEARsal is one big theatrical in-joke (Clyde admits that he bears a passing resemblance to Oscar King), it's open to outsiders in a much warmer way than either its fictitious seed or Frayn's hectic farce.

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