Uneven Edits: CUT

Alyce Householter, Liz Rimar, Stewart Evan Smith Jr — photo credit: Apollinaire Theatre

Cut by Crystal Skillman, Apollinaire Theatre Company, Chelsea Theatre Works, 3/30/12-4/21/12, http://www.apollinairetheatre.com/ productions/productions.html, in repertory with Smudge by Rachel Axler.

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Chelsea, MA) Reality programming might be so attractive to TV. watchers because its slick production values and clean edits hold out the hope that we can make some sense out of life. As the central protagonists of our own dramas, we want the chance for playbacks and edits to gain some introspection, or at least to come off looking good. But as the characters of Chelsea Theatre Works’ Cut learn, God is a lousy editor, and life doesn’t wrap up neatly when the cameras stop rolling.

Cut is an ambitious play that attempts to use the tools of reality television (jump cuts, flashback and earnest confessionals) to follow the unraveling of three low-level television producers as they crumble before a deadline. But while the script gives opportunity for insight, this production’s uneven execution muddles the message. Viewers are left to quickly enjoy a few well-crafted moments on stage, rather than stand back and take in the piece in as a whole.

Danno (Stewart Evan Smith), a frustrated actor-turned-television-editor, is trying to hold his three-person production team together as they try and turn in a finale episode of a reality program centered on rich women behaving badly. But both he and fellow editors Colette (Alyce Householter) and Rene (Elizabeth Anne Rimar) are dealing with their own dramas to focus on the show.

The play takes place in the three hour space before deadline, but the action mainly unfolds in monologues and flashback, with little face-time between the characters. Director A. Vincent Ularich fails to create clear divisions between past and present in his staging and technical lighting glitches further add to the play’s jerky feel.

The actors are left to try and create their own individual moments, and they have varying degrees of success. Rimar is painfully good at times as Rene, an intellectual ashamed of her failing marriage and her slumming career. Rimar succeeds partly because she slows down the frantic pace of the play to allow her pained movements to generate as much emotion as her words. Householter brings the attitude with her frenzied delivery of Colette, a street-wise New Yorker who grows vulnerable against her will in the bizarro-world of L.A. While Householter isn’t always able to show Colette’s vulnerability behind the character’s tough façade, she does make strong enough choices for us to buy into the character. Evan Smith’s forced delivery rarely conveys that Danno is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The production’s good spiritedness is almost enough to allow the audience to roll with the story, but the effect unravels in the play’s final minutes, when a few key lines supposed to give us meaning instead leave us confused. Either playwright Crystal Skillman overreached in her attempt to wrap things up with a bow or the production gets lost along the way to this seminal moment, but the end result is head-scratching instead of clarity. In this way, perhaps, the play resembles life, but life too often is bad theater.

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