Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Justin Jain, David Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn (the Berserker Residents) play experts in the Hillerson Acting System. They have been instructing a group of students (played by five actual student actors from the UArts' Ira Brind School of Theatre) all summer, and the performance we are watching is their final master class. The audience evaluates the young actors on a series of scene studies and impromptu exercises while the enthusiastic educators cause confusion, berate the students, and teach them to channel the four primary animals. Pretty standard stuff really, but things take a darker turn when the students find out what is really at the heart of the Hillerson Acting System.
The challenge of parodying acting theory is that so many educators and acting methods really are ludicrously larger than life. Most acting students have experienced a talking down more vicious than the ones doled out by the professors, and exercises more emotional excruciating than the Hillerson "trauma box." The scenes these students are tasked with performing are fabulously terrible parodies, but the acting is not bad enough when it is supposed to be awful or good enough when it should be great. These Terrible Things does reach a satisfying level of absurdity toward the end, but even then it lacks the sinister edge that could make it really funny.
There is some phenomenal writing and a lot of fantastic ideas in David Jacobi's script. I suspect that with some tweaks These Terrible Things could be spectacularly funny, and I would not hesitate to see another production in the future.
These Terrible Things runs through September 23rd, 2017, at the Caplan Studio Theater, Terra Hall - University of the Arts, 211 South Broad St., Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information visit fringearts.com.