By Daniel Skora
Jeff Daniels has written a perfect little gem of a play in “Casting Session”, a comedy about two middle-aged actors who find themselves auditioning for the same part in an upcoming movie. The world premier of the play is the current production at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre.
Frank (Tom Whalen) is a nervous sort. The play opens with him pacing the floor of an audition room while trying to remember his lines and complaining that he can’t understand why he wasn’t furnished a copy of the script beforehand. Frank is a legend in theatrical history. He gained notoriety when, playing a butler in his first (and only) Broadway appearance, he stopped the show when he was unable to deliver his only line, “Dinner is served”. Ron (David Daoust), the other actor, is the aggressive type, an in-your-face kind of guy who still harbors resentment towards Frank, who was given the part of the butler over Ron. He’s sure that the part would have given a big boost to his own career, and he’s never forgiven Frank for ruining his chances.
Much of the play’s early going has Ron chewing up on Frank in the hope that he will leave before the audition starts. The two have been vying for the same parts for what seems like forever. The office is managed by a woman named Fiona (Erika Matchie Thiede). She’s also the casting director and has absolute power over who gets to audition and who gets the heave-ho. Fiona makes frequent trips to the bathroom to check with the never-seen Eduardo, the director of the proposed film who likes to do business while sitting on the toilet. The audition is running behind because Eduardo, it seems, has been involved in a very long phone conversation with Steven Spielberg.
Daniels’ script is a marvel of economy. The play clocks in at less than 70 minutes and is performed without intermission. It’s hard to imagine after seeing it that there’s anything that could be added or anything to be deleted that could make the play any better than it already is. The plot never telegraphs where it’s going, and the numerous twists and surprises are constantly refreshing the play. Whalen and Daoust have great chemistry together, their characters coming to learn a great deal more about each other as the play progresses than they may have expected. Thiede not only compliments the two male actors, but puts on a robust performance that carves out her own important niche in the play. It’s safe to say that this casting session will not be a high point in the acting careers of either character. It will be a high point, however, in their journey towards realizing their full potential as human beings.
“Casting Session” is a story about dreamers and the temerity with which they pursue their dreams even under overwhelming odds. It’s a hilarious show with a generous heart and Jeff Daniels’ script and The Purple Rose’s production are truly a delight. One exchange between Frank and Ron where they agree that the stage is not the only place where acting happens nicely validates the title of this site: “it’s All Theatre!”.
“Casting Session is directed by Guy Sanville. The set for the New York City office was designed by Bartley H. Bauer, casting couch prominently displayed, but this one used primarily to absorb coffee stains. Lighting is by Dana L. White, costumes by Shelby Newport, and properties by Danna Segrest. This 2015/16 season is the 25 year anniversary of the Purple Rose Theatre. In conjunction with that anniversary, an hour-long documentary about the playhouse and its founder, Jeff Daniels, will appear on Public Television on October 26th. An anniversary coffee table book is also in the works and will be available sometime in the very near future.
“Casting Session” runs through December 19th. Ticket reservations can be made by calling The Purple Rose Theatre Box Office at 734-433-7673 or going online to www.purplerosetheatre.org. The theatre is located at 137 Park Street in Chelsea.