In the Midwest premiere of Anne Washburn’s new play, Theater Wit presents 10 Out of 12, directed by Jeremy Wechsler and featuring the voices of Chicago favorites Martha Lavey, John Mahoney, Barbara Robertson, and Peter Sagal. In this recreation of a technical rehearsal, audience members are given headsets, allowing them access to the conversations of the technicians and designers as well as the events onstage.
The play has a very Annie Baker-esque feel to it. The events of the rehearsal happen in real time, complete with pauses of various lengths for holds. Although the overall pace is slow, the show never drags, and the timing always feels organic. Indeed, the entire show, from the text to the actors’ delivery to the blocking, is remarkably organic, detailed, and realistic. I cannot count the number of moments that were viscerally reminiscent of technical rehearsals I’ve been in, from a slow, drawn-out “woooooooow” over the headset after two actors get into an argument onstage to a character’s insistence that he doesn’t need to go to the emergency room for an injury because “it’s fine; I have gaff tape.” The play is full of hilarious moments, funny because of exactly how realistic they are.
The show features all the essential personnel for this type of rehearsal, including the stage manager, director, designers, actors, and stagehands. But the one character who is notably missing is the playwright, whom the other characters note has been present for other rehearsals but is currently out with the flu. Indeed, the playwright and the play-within-the-play become the least important elements of the storytelling, taking a backseat to the conversations and conflicts of the people working on the show. This is an interesting commentary on the nature of theatre itself; perhaps the real story is not what’s performed onstage, but the journey of how the play comes to be.
The only complaint I have about the text is that the ending takes a sharp stylistic turn and seems not to fit with the rest of the story. Overall, though, the play is a wonderfully metatheatrical piece, blurring the lines between real life and the play in interesting ways and allowing the audience up-close access to the final and most intensive stages of putting together a piece of theatre.
The acting work is strong across the board. There’s something fascinating about watching actors playing actors or, better yet, actors playing designers and members of the stage crew. Highlights include Riley McIlveen as goofy electrics technician Eric; Christine Vrem-Ydstie, who brings a bright energy to female lead Eva; and Eunice Woods, who has an enjoyable stage presence and who delivers a monologue about the onstage death of a mouse brilliantly. Stephen Walker is hilarious as the melodramatic, diva-like actor Paul, whose pretentious musings on the art of theatre are made all the funnier by Walker’s steadfastly serious delivery. All of the voice actors featured on the headset deliver strong performances as well; my particular favorite is Barbara E. Robertson as dry costume designer Beth.
The design work is delightful, in that it’s deliberately unfinished. The hallway leading to the theatre is littered with paint cans and stencils, with a call board hanging on the wall. The tech table is cluttered with empty coffee cups, papers, and a scale model of the set. Parts of the set are uncompleted. Meanwhile, actors are seen in period skirts and contemporary hoodies, and the stage manager dresses in a baggy Angry Birds T-shirt and cargo pants. Every detail is carefully constructed to create the environment of a work in progress, and the results are lovely.
10 out of 12 is an amusing piece, but it has heart, too. The characters are all deeply human, and the script offers sweet and sincere musings on what it is and means to do theatre. This fresh new play is a beautiful reflection on the art of theatre and a wonderful experience to participate in.
Location: Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont Ave., in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
Dates: are March 3-April 23, 2017
Times: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Tickets are $12-$70. To purchase tickets, a Theater Wit Membership or Flex Pass, visit the Theater Wit website or call 773.975.8150.
All photos by Charles Osgood.