THEATER REVIEW: This playwright should have shuffled off elsewhere

“Don’t Talk To the Actors” / The Theater Barn

IT’S LATE JUNE at the Theater Barn; and after the first intermission of “Don’t Talk To the Actors,” the lady next to me returned wearing a heavy outdoor jacket. She said she had gone to her car looking for a blanket but decided that the jacket might be less conspicuous.

People going to restaurants or theaters are not buying just food or art or entertainment. They are buying an experience. The experience is likely to be influenced by factors such as soft or hard seats, views, ambience, or A/C. On Friday night, for at least some of us, the experience was survival-in-the-fridge.

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If the life of an actor is hard, that of a playwright can match it, as (l-r) Morgan Troia, Ben Katagiri and Shannon Paul discover in “Don’t Talk to the Actors.” The comedy continues through Sunday, July 3 at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon. Photo contributed

I have worked especially hard not to allow iciness to color (blue, of course) my play-responses.

The “Don’t Talk …” plot revolves around a young playwright, his naïve fiancée, two professional actors, a director and a stage manager. They are in rehearsal for a new play written by the innocent, first-time-on-Broadway playwright from Buffalo. The Buffalo Chamber of Commerce ought to have sued for defamation when this play came out.

Author Tom Dudzick has made his two actor-characters so insufferably egotistical and self-serving that Actors’ Equity ought to have sued as well.

At the Barn, the set for a Manhattan rehearsal studio is so ugly-appropriate, so true-to-life, that set-designers definitely should not sue.

There are some funny lines, especially as delivered by Joan Coombs as Beatrice, the raunchy, narcissistic cabaret-actress with heart-of-gold-tendencies. In general, there are some good funnies. But not enough of them to carry the play.

The knots in which Dudzick’s characters become tied are untwisted by two plot turns that just don’t read: one is borrowed from a show-biz fantasy and the other from utterly black comedy–which this is not. (The audience is invited to laugh at a bizarre death, which, on Friday night, it was most reluctant to do.)

Director Phil Rice has encouraged–or allowed–the actors to become overwrought with lots of lines that don’t really deserve it. (This tends to happen when a director does not quite trust the play.) Sometimes directors think that non-stop yelling will substitute for theatrical energy. The Theater Barn production suffers disturbingly from one or more of those issues.

Fortunately Coombs and Tobey Wherry as the grungy stage director and Ben Katagiri as the young playwright often shine through. Morgan Troia as the young fiancée needs more honest innocence, and John W. Noble as the older actor needs to be slicker and a bit more George Clooneyish to make their relationship believable.

Intermissions are graced with some wonderful jazz, smartly chosen and delivered on an excellent sound system.

“Don’t Talk To the Actors” runs through Sunday, July 3 and is followed by Agatha Christie’s “Toward Zero.” (Theater Barn is especially known for its Agatha Christies.) Reserve tickets at 518 794-8989.

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