by Marcina Zaccaria
Life upon the wicked stage rivals an ego-driven world of film and video production that combines top name talent with nervous newbies, believing in the worth of the human actor, above all.
What elapses over 75 minutes in Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson is a moment-by-moment account of a day. It might have been funny, that day when Luke Wilson arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to shoot a commercial. Fresh from his successful film, The Royal Tenenbaums, the actor becomes more like a puppet in a larger arena, filled with mishap.
It’s a world of green screen, with a Props Department cast as a type of God that can do anything. Perched high, upstage center, a veteran crew member and the young upstart hold their position. One gumball, three gumballs, seven gumballs into the commercial, the anxiety is palpable. Error occurs in repetition. The gumballs are hard. But, the Director needs it all to continue forward. He wants gumballs that would crack one’s skull.
Mini explosions look particularly credible at The Mezzanine Theater at A.R.T./ NY. It’s packed with nooks and crannies for film and television production. Particularly truthful is the portrayal of legendary Director Errol Morris, played by David Wohl. Taking up his microphone, his pep talks are as solid as his career review, shown on more than four screens positioned around on the wide stage. The wiry props guy, so skillfully played by George Hampe, re-awakens early career nightmares. Cries for better conditions are held by the Assistant Director, played by Ann Harada. Finally, Jonathan Sale as Actor Luke Wilson is suave and commanding, even as he struggles for control of his stage.
It’s an interesting drama for Theresa Rebeck, who is making her NY Directorial Debut with this play. Rebeck, known for her work on NYPD Blue and as a playwright of four Broadway plays including Bernhardt/ Hamlet, appreciates a larger sense of scale. And really, Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson is about asking questions. Is it boredom or ego? In a multi-media world, where reputations are taken each day, it’s near comforting to see Rebeck build a type of challenging dialectic among seasoned performers.
It is also a testament to the Working Theater’s mission, to bring stories to the stage that “reflect a diverse population of the working majority.” Rob Ackerman’s play seems to cram in every labor-related issue that might appear in a packed 75 minutes. Talk of Union Eligibility, law suits to be filed, and, of course, optimal working conditions, make for minute-to-minute action, but Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson lacks effortless flow. While the outpouring of emotion in the script must have been derived from Ackerman’s years as the Prop Master for SNL Film Unit, what is remembered is the humor, and the desire to turn the document of a day into an interactive experience, where one’s inner most soul can be exposed, and where one can say what one never before could say.
Funny, yet tragic, Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson is a must see for theater folks, with friends in the film and television industry who never really confess why they just had to quit their day job.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson officially opens on June 18, and is playing at the A.R.T./ NY’s Mezzanine Theater, located at 502 W. 53rd Street in Manhattan thru July 6 www.theworkingtheater.org