Aw, It’s hard to be a playwright. The mounting pressure of “the ending” staring you in the face throughout the entire creative process, screaming in your ear, “No one will forgive a crap ending no matter how rich the tapestry of Act I and II!”
The Immortal Coil (think Hamlet, of course), a play by J.B. Heaps, is a glimpse into theatrical tortures such as 'the third act,' the oft-toxic relationship that exists between the creative idol and the adoring worshiper, and just about every other stage trap. The play is set (and performed) in a black box theatre, and the stage filled with minimalist theatre things like scuffed-up acting blocks, tattered chairs, a simple wooden desk, and dust. We meet the actor-hating, belligerent playwright Erasmus Bernstein and his biggest fan, Benji, an actor. Erasmus has a new play after a long hiatus from theatre. Benji is going to be his star, possibly. The pair are a painful example of the pupil surpassing the master in all the unfortunate, albeit funny, ways. There are plenty of hilarious, cringe-worthy, all-too-relatable lines about the whole process of theatre. I think it’s fair to say most thespians are guilty of uttering at least 97% of Benji’s more ridiculous, ‘actor-ey’ lines, with total conviction.
Eric Keuhnemann as Benji is a firecracker onstage. He is a bubbling bundle of wonderful zest, constantly engaged and engaging. He has fun in the role, so we have fun watching him. John Michalski as the misanthropic playwright balances the energy field with a more measured, tempered inner life, capturing Erasmus’ hard-boiled heart with a rich amalgam of obnoxious indignation, weather-beaten pessimism and, surprisingly, a great deal of tenderness.
Director Stephen Jobes has chosen his cast wisely and pulled very dear, superb performances out of each of his actors. Tony Del Bono and Spencer Wilson play the next generation of ‘Benjis’ with excellent bumbling wit, spot-on comedic timing and sincere sweetness. Tony Del Bono (as Torrance Flagg) has a savvy, loveable and bright presence onstage. Spencer Wilson (as Ketchum Harley), with his model-mockery dry wit and a model-y, pretty face to top it off, complements the more overt and sophisticated Del Bono splendidly.
The only vacancy I felt in the play’s speedy 70 (or so) minutes is more insight into the gentler times Benji and Erasmus must have shared. Surely the two shared a few laughs, a moment or two of actual bonding. Constant antagonism can’t be enough to link these two characters. The banter is too one dimensional to come from three dimensional characters. Just don’t let this glimpse of exposition come at the expense of the very funny actor, director or playwright jabs. It’s good for theatre artists to laugh at their favorite subject: themselves.