by Sergei Burbank · October 10, 2015
Edward Elefterion’s Disappearing Act examines the peculiarly limbo-like existence of indie theater actors. As they devote their (almost non-existent) spare time on weekends developing a play by a never-seen playwright named Robert, three actors -- Albert (Aulisi), Erin (Hartford), and Trish (Shar) -- buy lottery tickets, share their frustrations with creative life (and each other), and explore the sometimes overwhelming intimacy that can emerge between creatives (both for good and for ill). The comfortably familiar tension of every play in this “behind the scenes” genre -- will the show come off? -- is complicated through the tensions that erupt when sensitive souls are locked in close quarters; the question applies not only to the production, but their friendships. And as the show teeters, an even more troublesome question -- Why do actors put themselves through this? -- threatens some dangerous answers.
The world of the play is imbued with precariousness. As the actors weigh better offers and wear on each other’s nerves, their play sits in the balance, and their lives outside the rehearsal studio threaten to unravel -- with gainful employment (or not) and understanding spouses (or not), with lines of intimacy crossed.
The play is staged in the Great Room of South Oxford Space, and Elefterion makes clever use of an off-beat performance area. Ad-hoc seating and fluorescent room lights obliterate any potential divide between audience members and performers. This spatial fluidity is paired with a script that operates like a series of nesting Russian dolls -- there are plays within plays within plays: Disappearing Act is set during rehearsals for another play that is, itself, about multiple playwrights. The production intentionally blurs the lines between these plots, as the collective experience of all these voices and personas is actually the point.
The script and direction are sure-footed, placed in the hands of excellent performers. Hartford and Shar play nimbly between mutual love and hate; Hartford achieves a steel with underlying vulnerability. Aulisi, an eminently watchable performer, lives a lifetime in Albert’s silences.
It seems hardly an accident that the names of the roles are only one degree removed from the performers playing them; all three actors are mainstays of Rabbit Hole’s production catalog, and while the intimacy and familiarity of their characters benefits as a result, the fictional play both is and is not them. Their experiences, imbued with immediacy and subtlety, are eminently familiar: Who among us hasn’t railed against Equity’s mad work rules? Who among us hasn’t confused on-stage ardor with off-stage potential, only to pull back as a production run ends?
Elefterion, via Albert, delivers a poignant answer to the question they -- and we -- dread: Why do actors do what they do? While there is compulsion behind the performer’s impulse -- they love an audience -- they also love the audience for the audience’s sake, not their own. The play’s affection for its subject matter extends past the stage and into the house: Disappearing Act embraces it all, and that includes you.