Eat the Runt is a purposefully disjointed little play full of eccentric characters. The Footlight’s cast and crew deserve kudos just for taking on a project this bizarre. More than that, they deserve a big theatrical slap on the back for making it work. In the capable hands of director Don Brandenburg, Runt is a witty and memorable comedy of misconceptions.
A lot of factors have to fall into place to make a play work — the script, the crew, the sound, and the lighting. But casting is the most important part of the process. Every choice of actor changes the final product, not just who plays each character, but how they interact with each other. If one actor doesn’t suit the play, the others have to work harder to help him and the strain usually shows.
Playwright Avery Crozier (The Rat Explodes) knows this, and he uses Runt to experiment with the whole casting process. He’s taken away the equation of perfect casting by writing characters that can be boy or girl, black or white, young or old. That way, seven actors can switch roles every night. And they do — on the whim of the audience.
Hence, theatergoers take on a role themselves, that of a callous casting director deciding who plays what. Before the show, the seven actors’ photos are laid out on a voting table. Encouraged to vote against type, audience members are asked to put the photos in different envelopes marked with a character’s job description, such as grants writer, art museum trustee, or human resources coordinator. The actor who doesn’t get any of these parts is free to go home for the night.
Once the results are announced, the cast don their costumes and prepare for about 10 minutes. Then the play starts, with the audience appreciating how adaptable the actors are. Brandenburg has chosen them well. CofC theater major Nikki Pearcy is one of the youngest, while the white-bearded E. Karl Bunch represents the theater’s old guard. Either one of them could be “Merritt,” a grants manager candidate undergoing an unusual interview process.
Merritt wants to get a job at a prestigious art museum, and he/she hits it off with some board members while alienating others with references to Ayn Rand, anal sex, and anti-Semitism in Underdog. Each staff member has a secret for Merritt to uncover, and the way they perceive the interviewee effects how they react to him/her in Act Two.
In his 49th Footlight production, Bunch is fearless, and he gets the most laughs. On opening night he played Director of Development Royce, mincing around in a white suit and wig with a bright red shirt, shoes, and glasses. In an Act One highlight, he got orgasmic over a foot massage from Merritt. Scott Robinson was equally effeminate as Pinky the Museum Director — either a comment on the delicate sensibilities of art types or a reminder that Royce and Pinky could be portrayed by women.
Lisa Cooper gave an understated performance as Chris, a staff member who is also up for the grants manager job. Although Chris is amicable toward Merritt, the candidate is warned that Chris might begrudge the competition. Cooper perfectly fit the part of assured insider, although she wasn’t as confident with her lines as Bunch or Laura Artesi (Merritt).
Artesi played the main part well, shifting her attitudes and approaches in each interview. The ever-reliable Boogie Dabney filled two smaller roles, quickly giving them separate identities and establishing them as recognizable management types.
Rives Corbin seemed the least at ease in his role of museum trustee Sidney, proving that not all of the actors are suited to each role. His performance was more exaggerated than the other actors’ — a side effect of having such a varied cast.
Brandenburg encourages audiences to return to see the play again with the actors in different parts; we saw a version that featured Pearcy as Merritt, and although she wasn’t sure of all her lines, she still made her character likeable and amusing — just like the play, whomever it stars.