Applause to the Understudies

By Damaris Montalvo

As the kind of gal who watches the same play multiple times, I’ve got to say I love understudies. I’ve written about the beauty of repeat viewings before, and one of the key reasons I love them is that I get to see a slightly different play every time. So when an understudy enters the scene, he or she brings with him/her a different kind of energy and a different interpretation of the character that makes things newly exciting. This is actually why I really appreciate that The Antaeus Company double-casts each show, as it allows me to see different hues of the same color.

Futura_artAt Boston Court, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing various understudies come onstage. The first understudy I recall was Julia Silverman, who stood in for Bonita Friedericy as the character of the typography professor in Futura. I remember experiencing Bonita as more emotional and Julia as more stoic, and I enjoyed them both. The emotional version of the Professor allowed me to connect with her passion and love for the written language, for ink, for smudges; the stoic version of the Professor presented a woman who was such a fierce force to be reckoned with, that The Corporation couldn’t bring her down. And both versions were true to the character.

everythingEarlier this year, I got to see Teya Patt understudy for Kirsten Vangsness in Everything You Touch, which has been one of my favorite shows at Boston Court. I had thought that Kirsten was Jess, so I’ll admit that I had a little trepidation at the thought of anyone else playing Jess. But when I learned that her understudy was Teya, I started feeling more ease. I had seen Teya in Heavier than…, and one of her strengths is her comedic delivery and timing, so I knew she’d bring that to a character who renders her journey to identity and acceptance with a fair amount of nerdy, self-deprecating hilarity. I learned with Teya’s performance that Jess could, in fact, have a different skin. I loved how Kirsten learned to accept and play with the models/muses/chorus, while Teya was watchfully suspicious of them. I also loved that in a show where fashion is quintessential to the story and the characters, Kirsten and Teya’s outfits in the last scene were unique to them. I enjoyed this seemingly small detail because it would have been easy to have the understudy, but this show is about fashion as an extension of your identity, and it wouldn’t have been right to make them fit into the same fashion mold for a scene that’s all about self-identity and acceptance. So it was fitting for their outfits to be tailored to each of them.

Recently, I actually got to see an understudy performance for Stupid Fucking Bird, with the entire understudy cast. The only other time I’d seen an understudy performance was with How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found, so it had been a while, and I was greatly looking forward to it. I deeply enjoyed all the subtle differences between each cast.

SFB_Cast_v3I loved how Amy Pietz plays a bitter, biting, attention-seeking Emma, but I loved Stasha Surdyke’s subtlety, patience, and elegance in the kitchen scene when she convinces Trigorin to stay with her. I loved how Emily Goss enhances Nina’s radiant youthfulness, but I also loved how Zarah Mahler’s maturity contributes to Nina’s seduction of Trigorin. I loved Will Bradley’s tour de force performance that makes me feel every feeling there is, but I’m also convinced Jeff Nichols is Conrad, with his hipster, artistic angst. I could go on like this about the rest of the cast, but I think you get the point.

Ultimately, I appreciate understudies for their willingness to commit to their role with as much passion and dedication as the main cast. And I love that they support each other, too. When Stasha understudied for Amy last time I saw the play, I noticed that the entire understudy cast was in the audience, supporting her.

I think they all deserve our respect and our support.

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