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THEATER REVIEW

Taking the `Sides' of actors at auditions

Cattle calls, readings and callbacks are all fodder for this sendup.

September 22, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Actors are a hardy breed. Schooled in rejection, they are willing to undergo almost daily indignities that would send most of us screaming to the therapist's couch. Also, when it comes to income, most actors would make more money running a corner lemonade stand. Still, they persevere, hoping to ride the tide, beat the odds and nail that breakout role.

But to get that role, actors must audition first. Armed only with "sides" -- the specific pages from the script in which their characters appear -- actors must show up at auditions, often on a moment's notice, and be absolutely dazzling.

Or not. "Sides: The Fear Is Real ..." is an over-the-top sendup of the audition process that taps into the primal urgency of the actor's lot, in all its high hopes, low humor and surprising poignancy.

Written and performed by the New York-based Mr. Miyagi's Theatre Company and directed by Anne Kauffman, the show originally ran in New York and can now be seen in its West Coast premiere at East West Players. Supposedly based on "true life audition nightmares," "Sides" is essentially blackout comedy sketches performed with gusto by six high-energy writer-performers. From cattle call to callback, we feel their pain.

The cast consists of Hoon Lee, Sekiya Billman, Rodney To, Peter Kim, Cindy Cheung and Paul H. Juhn. Subtle, they are not. In fact, broad mugging prevails throughout the action, which Kauffman keeps rolling at a scorching slapstick pace. Granted, the mugging sometimes seems forced and certain pregnant pauses, intended for comic effect, are so overplayed that they lengthen into dead air.

Chalk that up to a strange venue and opening-night jitters. Once they warm up, the performers are authoritative. And if the material is riddled with in-jokes that would never play in Peoria, it is often richly entertaining.

Mostly, the humor in "Sides" derives from giving a bizarre twist to typical situations. Take Cass (hilarious Cheung), a perky casting director whose job it is to feed lines to auditioners. Your average casting director would rattle off the cues with dry efficiency. Not Cass. Once she gets rolling, Cass becomes a histrionic scenery chewer whose melodramatic conniptions flummox the actor pitted against her.

Then there's Ding Ding (drolly flamboyant To), a psychotically offbeat director whose impossibly conflicting demands baffle his unfortunate actors.

The plight of the ethnic actor is also explored to pointed effect. In one scene, Lee's character auditions for two appallingly shallow casting directors who tweak his reading until he becomes a simpering, pidgin-spouting travesty. And Billman's character deliberately truckles to low expectations, transforming from a well-spoken young woman to a shrieking Asian stereotype.

The play ends with a comically painful dance audition in which a hip-hopping choreographer tries to get a roomful of non-dancers to "booty pop." Frozen in anxiety, the cringing and terrified actors suddenly snap into a crisp disco sequence, complete with silver costumes. It's a fittingly playful ending that illustrates the bravery and endurance of actors in general and the transformative nature of acting itself.

*

`Sides: The Fear Is Real ... '

Where: David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 1

Price: $30 to $35

Contact: (213) 625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

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