Theater

‘The Reenactors’ Is Juliana Francis Kelly’s Sharp-Tongued Love Letter to the Theater

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Juliana Francis Kelly’s The Reenactors, on stage through Sunday, December 13, at Abrons, is a sharp-tongued love letter to the theater — specifically, to the actors who dive headfirst into the psyches of tortured characters in second-rate plays while juggling three other jobs. There are no long-winded monologues about the magic of the stage or the freedom of creativity, but rather tightly drawn scenes that brim with caustic wit, depicting sleep-deprived thespians who routinely catch catnaps between auditions and let off steam with unhinged bouts of karaoke.

Francis Kelly’s writing bristles with macabre humor rooted in the contradictions that thwart genuine human connection.

When we meet them, Actress (Blair Busbee) and Actor (Dylan Dawson) are slogging through a meet-cute scene until she breaks character to question a line. Director (Ean Sheehy) leaps out of the front row of the audience to address the issue, but frustrations only deepen as rehearsals beat on. The play-within-a-play, which focuses on the sole survivor of a teenage suicide pact and the man who’s drawn to her, brims with the kind of faux gravitas that abounds in writing conservatories. Obie winner Francis Kelly’s writing is far better, bristling with macabre humor rooted in the contradictions that thwart genuine human connection. Unfortunately, she allows her richly drawn characters to be kidnapped by this inferior “master’s thesis,” and not even Tony Torn’s kinetically minimalist direction and a solid cast can prevent the last twenty minutes from nosediving into Lifetime-movie dreariness.

The Reenactors

By Juliana Francis Kelly

Abrons Arts Center

466 Grand Street

212-598-0400, abronsartscenter.org