While this is a fascinating idea, anyone who has worked in theater will tell you that Tech rehearsals are long and tedious with all the stopping and starting to get the lights, sound, set and costumes right as time is running out. Unfortunately, much of 10 out of 12 falls into this category. At two hours and 40 minutes, the play is a bit of an endurance test for the uninitiated. Although as the Tech rehearsal goes on we get to know the characters better, the play is revealing about only some of its characters.
The production team of 10 out of 12 are played by actors both seen and unseen (that is, heard only on the headsets from the back of the theater.) Stage manager Molly (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) checks to see that everyone is in place and on their headsets. The carpenter (Garrett Neergaard) makes adjustments to the set. The lighting (Wendy Rich Stetson) and sound (Bray Poor) technicians begin to try out their cueing sequences, and the actors dressed for their roles (in the unnamed play-within-the-play) are called onto the stage for the first scene. Costumes are examined and furniture altered on the partially completed set. Playwright Carla is out sick with the flu so that we know she will not appear, and that for better or worse director Elliot (Bruce McKenzie) is in complete control of the run through.
The play being rehearsed (in bits and pieces) is an original nineteenth century melodrama with sexual content provocative for today, which also appears to jump ahead to a sequence in the present. In the course of the rehearsal, we hear jokes, anecdotes, worries, complaints, and bits of personal history, both over the earbud and during the breaks. The stage manager is always firm but unflappable. The director hardly ever commits himself, letting the actors come to their own decisions. The stage crew does their work silently and efficiently. It is the actors we learn about from their conversations and the interruptions to their onstage work. Most striking is Thomas Jay Ryan as Paul, a legendary downtown actor. However, Paul is a dyed-in-the-wool method actor and in the second act’s most memorable scene complains he can’t find his motivation and begins a rant about integrity. This reaches a climax in his extemporaneous new speech, not written by his playwright, which floors all the other actors and staff.
Among the other actors in the play-within-the-play, we meet Jake (David Ross), an actor who already is being sought out by Hollywood and thinks nothing of keeping the other actors waiting while he is on his cell phone to his agent. Then there is Eva (Sue Jean Kim), a young actress who is insecure in both her role and her technique, constantly asking for reassurance. While Nina Hellman’s Siget demonstrates her versatility playing two contrasting roles, one old, one young, we don’t learn much about her. On the other hand, overhearing the conversations of the technicians (Jeff Biehl and Neergaard) when they think their headphones are turned off is quite amusing.
Les Waters, artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville (which has premiered other Washburn plays) does a good job of moving the 14 performers around the theater, and having things happen in various parts such as the aisles or before the apron. However, he is less good at making 10 out of 12 seem anything but vignettes and snapshots as obviously we don’t witness all 10 hours of the rehearsal but moments selected by Washburn. Based on notes that she took at actual tech rehearsals in the past ten years, the play has verisimilitude but it ultimately lacks coherency and theme. David Zinn’s set, purposely left incomplete, is serviceable and believable but not particularly attractive in its unfinished state. The lighting and sound cues created by designers Justin Townsend and Bray Poor (who is in the cast) are often amusing, at times colorful and arresting, at others simply tiresome as changes are made and repeated. We don’t know the play being rehearsed well enough to understand the differences in the changes made. Costume designer Asta Bennie Hostetter has been asked to create a whole range of clothing from contemporary work clothes to historic period pieces to street clothes which define characters.
On one level, 10 out of 12 reveals things that the average theatergoer usually never sees. On another level, it attempts to let us into the thoughts and workings out of theater professionals as they try to hone their crafts for a specific purpose. Ultimately, the clever premise is self-defeating as we don’t learn all that much from the repetitions and mistakes meant to help bring the play-within-the-play to fruition. An unusual theatrical enterprise, 10 out of 12 is more of an experiment than a finished work of art.
10 out of 12 (through July 18, 2015)
Soho Rep., 46 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.sohorep.org
Running time: two hours and 40 minutes including one intermission