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A CurtainUp Review
10 Out of 12

"In life, we are all vital. Must we not be so in the theater?"— Paul
10 Out of 12
A scene from 10 Out of 12 (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)
As the strippers in Gypsy know, "You gotta have a gimmick." Soho Rep has taken those words to heart with its production of 10 Out of 12, for which each audience member is given, a one-eared headset for the duration of the show. The play consists of a particularly grueling tech rehearsal for an unnamed drama set in what could be the ante bellum South but is probably (per a stray remark in the script) the Victorian British Empire.

The unstated conceit is that, with our headphones, we are part of the production team. We hear every lighting cue and every personal comment — mostly about food — being made behind the scenes.

It's a gimmick all right, but it's a gimmick that mostly works. We know we're really not, but at some level we feel like insiders, hearing things that even the actors onstage don't hear. It gives the play another dimension, or at least the appearance of one.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's the actual technical calls that are the most interesting. "Standing by backstage. Standby Lights 101 -102, house lights, and Sound 1-3" sounds completely authentic. It's like learning a foreign language.

A discussion about the finer points of a salami sandwich — provolone, mayo — no mustard, store-bought seven grain bread – seems padded for laughs. Not a complete miss but a little forced.

The technical calls draw us in. We know they're genuine, since we see the lights respond to them. At least we think they're responding. Either way, the setup and the headphones give us an investment in the production because we think that on some level we're part of it.

Watching the play-within-a-play is certainly good for a laugh, with its teasingly overwrought language and emoting. Its story, of which we see only shards, has many engaging possibilities. It's hard to say exactly what it's about, but it seems to touch on imps (lizard-like aliens) and coming to terms (not the imps, the people) with your sexual orientation.

Eva (a sensational Sue Jean Kim) and Charles (Gibson Frazier, reminiscent of Leslie Howard in voice and attitude) begin the play. But don't expect them to go anywhere; technical glitches hold them back. (That's what technical rehearsals are for.) Not to worry, we'll see each of them again.

Playwright Anne Washburn, with director Les Waters, creates an exaggerated melodramatic sensibility that is completely copacetic with the horror movie genre to which it is wed. And with our headsets and the characters" histrionics we can easily feel superior. Washburn's and Waters' overall concept works, but they try to get just a little too much mileage out of it. As good as their ideas are, they're not enough to sustain a play this long.

Both acts start strong. Then there's a valley that continues for a while. And then there's a shot of adrenaline. In the first act it's Kim as Marie, the actress who plays Eva. After Paul goes on at length about an actor who's late, she laces into Paul about his touching her and how reviled she was. She storms off the stage. Ten minute break is called. Then a fifteen minute break with intermission.

In the second act, Ryan gets his chance to chew up the scenery. After the show has been grinding away for two hours, Paul decides to wax philosophical, both as to himself and the play. He's le grand artiste, spouting out inordinately florid pronouncements with self-satisfied pomposity. Ryan takes him right to the edge, a well-tuned and hilarious study in self-importance.

Nina Hellman, excellent in several roles, is especially noteworthy as Lucille, a brassy whore-house prostitute whom Charles and Carstairs (Charles's friend played by Ryan as Paul) visit. Hellman paints a spirited portrait, hard-boiled with no heart of gold.

Not surprisingly, lighting plays a big part in a play about a tech rehearsal, and lighting designer Justin Townsend gets to show his range. Going from very direct to very subtle, he lights both the play-within-a play and the play itself nimbly and precisely.

10 Out of 12's seems long, given those valleys in the middle of each act that have everyone waiting for the cavalry to come. And it comes, thank goodness — but it's a little too late. Clearing some pre-cavalry clutter would do 10 Out of 12 a world of good. It's a clever play whose cleverness is just a little overextended.

10 Out of 12 by Anne Washburn 
Director: Les Waters Cast: Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Stage Manager), Jeff Biehl (Tech. 3), Gibson Frazier (Ben/Charles), Rebecca Hart (Costume), Nina Hellman (Siget,/Old Lady/Lucille), Sue Jean Kim (Eva/Marie), Bruce McKenzie (Director), Garrett Neergaard (Tech. 2), David Ross (Jake/Richard), Thomas Jay Ryan (Paul/Carstairs), Conrad Schott (Assistant Director), Wendy Rich Stetson (Lights), and Leigh Wade (ASM)
Set Design:  David Zinn
Costume Design: Asta Bennie Hostetter
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Bray Poor
Props: George Hoffmann & Greg Kozatek
Choreographer: Barney O'Hanlon
Music Arrangement: Dan MacKenzie & Bray Poor
Production Stage Manager: Amanda Spooner
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Soho Rep., 46 Walker Street,, 212.352.3101
From 5/26/15; opening 6/10/15;closing 7/11/15
Reviewed by Michael Bracken based on June 3 performance
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