Sophomore Michelle Secunda’s production of “Are You Ready?” was good for what it was: a bare stage comedy. This is not to imply, however, that the production was inherently inferior to Studio shows of a higher tier. On the contrary, in attending Friday night’s performance, I laughed harder than I did at much of the dry bon mots found in the full-lengths and main stages of seasoned directors. When I say, then, that Secunda’s Knox directorial debut was good for what it was, I am simply arguing that an acknowledgement must be made. A solid piece of theater, “Are You Ready?” was not without its problems, due to Secunda’s inexperience and the limitations put on bare stage productions.
It was dead quiet when I entered Studio Theatre this past weekend. There was no pre-show music—which I understand has become common practice for bare stages—but neither was the audience holding any conversations. We were all just waiting, and though the silence created a sense of artifice which would later enhance the play’s self-referential nature, it is my belief that the awkwardness hurt the show’s energy overall.
The play itself, written by David Auburn, is a 13-minute romp through a mutual misunderstanding. A man with a restaurant reservation is asked if he is ready for his table. Simultaneously, he asks a nearby woman if she would kiss him. His life a total wreck up until this evening. At this point, the woman — a food critic who has routinely been denied a table by the snooty maître d’ — says yes, trying to muscle in on the man’s reservation. Each character, through monologue, reveals the backstory that has led them to this nexus in time. Hilarity ensues.
“Are You Ready?” is a blueprint comedy, in that it shows the building block steps taken to reach the punch line. As a member of Knox’s Improv Club, such a piece was right up Secunda’s alley, and it especially shows in her staging. This term’s Studio configuration, set by senior Jordyn Stewart for her upcoming production of “Playhouse Creatures,” is comprised of a square stage, bordered by walls on the two upstage sides. Secunda’s solution to this small and somewhat tricky set-up was to cut the stage in half, creating a right triangle. The “C” side upstage was the location for the punch line, the hilarious misunderstanding. Actors in turn stepped downstage to the “point” to deliver their monologues. It’s a stark separation (and a slightly awkward one), but as the play progressed, characters began to mess around with their frozen partners in the background. This gradually growing interaction with the “scenery” enriched the piece, the added sense of touch enhancing the pathos felt.
The acting, however, could have used some improvement. All three of the actors in “Are You Ready?” — sophomore Ned Babbott as Man, sophomore Sammie Zimay as Woman and sophomore Jacob Clay as Maitre D’—were likable and funny in their characterizations, but a “rehearsed” quality pervaded the entirety of the production. Babbott’s back-and-forth pacing mirrored the vocal oscillations of Clay, and in general, dialogue was kept at a consistent volume and pace, never building to any of the punch lines. The only standout of the night was Zimay, who seemed to possess an innate sense of comedic timing as her character attempted to awkwardly connect with the audience. It is fortunate her monologue was last: whatever foibles occurred in the beginning were soon forgotten, as all unfroze for the final joke, the topper of this solid-for-what-it-was bare stage comedy.