The Understudy peeks behind the curtain 

Different Stages

The Understudy is a play within a play

Courtesy of CofC

The Understudy is a play within a play

For the past few years, Crescent Stage has brought its A-game to Piccolo Spoleto. The core collection of Paul Whitty, Jamie Smithson, Paul Rolfes, and Katie Huard has collaborated on successful productions like Art and Reasons to be Pretty. This year, the gang brings us The Understudy, a play by Theresa Rebeck.

The Understudy tells the tale of an "undiscovered work" of Franz Kafka that is being prepped for a Broadway run. A young understudy, played by Rolfes, attends rehearsals, and we follow the interaction between the actors and the stage manager. Paul Whitty takes directing duties on the comedy, while Smithson, Rolfes, and Huard play the starring roles.

"It's going to be a good time," Rolfes says. "We go into existential stuff, and we go into the play-within-a-play stuff." He says one of the biggest challenges of the show was figuring out how to layer it. The crew of Crescent Stage faces the task of portraying actors who are in turn portraying roles in a fictional play. One of the major questions that arises is, "How do we play this guy playing this guy?"

The script features heavily defined actors in very different stages of their lives. Some are established Hollywood staples who have been brought to Broadway, while the understudy is a young actor at the onset of his career, excited to be joining the production. He's a lot like the crew of Crescent Stage — they all work for free, committing five weeks of their lives to the production simply for the joy of performing and being a part of the festival.

"All four of us can relate," Rolfes says. "You have all these stars that have taken over Broadway. We're the other guys, who just enjoy working on the show." The Understudy allows a backstage view of the theater rehearsal process, but the layers of characters being portrayed on the stage shouldn't scare off potential viewers.

Crescent Stage has a well-earned reputation when it comes to the festival. It's a shining example of the enduring strength of the Stelle Di Domani series, and the talent of Charleston's local artists.

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