There’s a certain attraction to being let in on what happens behind the scenes, whether the subject is Hollywood (The Player), real estate sales (Glengarry, Glen Ross), or professional theater. The cloistered world of the latter is addressed in Scenery, a production intended to raise funds for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, which is now being performed at the Cleveland Play House.
If you enjoy turning yourself over to a couple excellent actors who know a little something about comic timing, you should bundle up, start your poor frozen vehicle, and treat yourself to an entirely likeable couple of hours.
The play by Ed Dixon, a veteran actor on Broadway and elsewhere (he played Matthew Harrison Brady in the fine Play House production of Inherit the Wind in 2009), drops us into the dressing room of the Crains, Richard and Marion, who are experienced thespians in the third act of their careers. They are opening something called “The Anniversary Wake” at the Belasco Theatre in New York City, a play they consider pure tripe but which will allow them to pay some bills.
Dixon uses his background to explore the inner workings of actors before, during intermission and after their performance. In addition to revealing some of the superstitions that abound in theater dressing rooms (no mention of Macbeth without a cleansing spin-spit-“fuck!” ritual), we learn that the Crains have a fairly dicey personal relationship.
They each share a fondness for male sexual companionship and, while Richard and Marion haven’t had sex with each other for eight years, they still clearly love each other. This comes through even as they argue and bicker with each other, occasionally joining forces to dump on the lowest of the low (critics and audience members who open candy wrappers during a performance).
As Marion and Richard, Anne McEvoy and Robert Hawkes conjure a believable, semi-platonic chemistry while delivering Dixon’s punch lines with off-handed dexterity. McEvoy is both aggravating and sympathetic as she battles with her self-image as an aging actor. Playing gay Richard with remarkable restraint, Hawkes avoids obvious limp-wristed characterizations but, at the same time, sacrifices some fey fun he might have had with this juicy role.
Director Tyson Douglas Rand keeps the two-acts moving briskly, even through a forced conclusion that threatens to throw it all off the tracks. But these two proven performers stick the landing, and it is hoped many people brave the elements to enjoy this charming inside-theater treat.
Through January 30, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, at the Brooks Theatre, Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, www.cleveshakes.org.