by Charles C Bales · August 19, 2015
William Youmans, Allison Minick | Matthew Dunivan
An eager-to-please actress on a bare stage shields her eyes from the glaring spotlight as she auditions for a renowned director who remains mostly in the shadows. Being Seen, now playing at 64E4 Underground in the East Village as part of FringeNYC 2015, bears a striking similarity to A Chorus Line — at least in its setup. A branded Chorus Line water bottle alongside the hopeful starlet on stage makes that abundantly clear.
But where that musical vérité gradually and gracefully revealed the performers’ life stories and talents in soul-baring song and dance, Being Seen too often relies on stereotypes and clichés to tell its tale: Actors sometimes humiliate themselves for a part, and directors sometimes bully actors into such humiliations.
Billed as a dark comedy, Being Seen beats this one-trick pony over and over and over. The play, written by actor/director/playwright Richard Gustin, actually fares better on the page than on the stage. There are occasional giggles at the hoops the overly trained yet talentless actress is made to jump through. And there are moments of sympathy — sometimes empathy — for her frustrating journey with the deliberately cryptic and imperious director, who sprinkles in moments of lucidity among unintelligibility and cruelty. But the script relies too heavily on coarse parody where biting satire would be more effective.
No names are given for The Actress or The Director — played by wide-eyed Allison Minick and sonorously voiced William Youmans. She is ever-desperate for approval and willing to submit to anything. He is continually nonsensical and withholding of his praise. Saddled with such one-dimensional archetypes (“Actress,” “Director”), the actual performers in this pas de deux struggle to find nuance in their characters among the writerly absurdity. Ms. Minick at least brings a palpable sense of desperation and hunger to her role. Mr. Youmans only really comes alive in the final moments of the play when he is alone onstage and delivers a melancholic soliloquy that hints at depths heretofore unseen.
Poking fun at actors for their unquenchable thirst for validation and lampooning directors for their self-importance requires the sharpest of wits. Audience members whose bookshelves are filled with tomes from Grotowski, Stanislavski, Hagen, Meisner, and other theater luminaries will most certainly get the inside jokes and references thrown out willy-nilly in Being Seen. But the play is way too esoteric to be anything but an exercise in “I had a director/an audition just like that” for actors who have experienced the vexation of a painful audition process. Over the course of 90 overly long minutes, the contrived humor of Being Seen wanes and its desired effect is lost in apathy.