Theater Wit’s Chicago premiere production of Anne Washburn’s 10 OUT OF 12 presents a novel concept: audience members don headsets as they dive into tech rehearsal for a fictional theatrical production. As the play unfolds, so does tech—warts and all. Under the guidance of the Stage Manager (Dado), we are invited to observe a 10-hour day (though the actual run-time is 2 hours and 40 minutes) in the theater as the company painstakingly works to integrate the design elements into the final staged production. Because this involves some pre-recorded bits literally in the audience’s ears, director Jeremy Wechsler has incorporated some fun cameos for Chicago audiences: Martha Lavey as Lights, John Mahoney as Electrics, and Peter Sagal as Sound, among others.
The initial moments of this tech rehearsal are amusing and witty—such as an early exchange about a skirt between Costumes (Barbara Robertson) and the Assistant Stage Manager (Erin Long). Audience members who work in the theater will find themselves facing the painfully familiar rhythms of tech, and those who are new to the tech process are introduced to this behind-the-scenes affair. And the design elements of the real-life production give the actors a great space on which to play. Adam Veness’s set has a slightly haphazard and whimsical feel and Izumi Inaba’s costume designs encapsulate both the casual dress of tech and the Victorian sensibilities of the play-within-the-play. As voiced by Lavey and Sagal, it’s also intriguing to see Diane D. Fairchild’s lighting and Joe Court’s sound design come to life.
Washburn’s first act takes audiences into the finest minutiae of tech rehearsal. We meet the slightly fussy Director (well played by Shane Kenyon), who is unrelenting in his vision for the show, and watch him quibble with actor Paul (Stephen Walker) over the type of shirt his character might wear. The earnest Assistant Director (Adam Shalzi) just wants to make sure actor Jake (Gregory Fenner) knows his lines down to the letter. Washburn’s set ups certainly feel rooted in the real world of theater, but also feel like tropes—these moments will be familiar to those in the theater know. And while that’s entertaining at first, the individual scenes become belabored. Like a long day at rehearsal, 10 OUT OF 12’s conceit ultimately becomes tiresome.
In the second act, Washburn moves away from the moment-by-moment depiction of tech and devotes a considerable amount of time to showing us the play-within-the-play. And while these scenes effectively convey that the company is working on a trying new play indeed, they overstay their welcome by several beats. The work onstage is occasionally interrupted, whether it be a conversation between actors, a question from actor Eva (Christine Vrem-Ydstie) about the reading of letters onstage, or a lengthy diatribe from Paul about the importance of a particular moment. Again, it’s clever of Washburn to include such bits, but they could be briefer. And Weschler’s direction allows the actors to luxuriate in these moments, rather than tightening them. The performances in 10 OUT OF 12 are across the board solid, and the backstage players in particular are musing. But the overall pacing of the production could improve.
Washburn’s 10 OUT OF 12 offers a knowing wink at the theater community as it takes us inside tech, but this rehearsal feels too drawn out.
10 OUT OF 12 runs through April 23 at Theater Wit, 1229 North Belmont. Tickets are $24-$70. For tickets and more information, visit TheaterWit.org.
Photo Credit: Charles Osgood
Read the original review on PerformInk.