The Understudy

By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Michael Mendelson

September 8, 2015 – October 4, 2015

Alder Stage

An understudy rehearsal for a fictional Kafka play on Broadway teeters on the edge of reality when Harry – the understudy for Jake, who is the understudy for Bruce, a Hollywood action star about to land a multimillion-dollar part – must work with the ill-fated production’s exasperated stage manager whose life he ruined long ago. The Understudy is a raucously funny existential exposé on human motivation that examines the underbelly of the theatre business and the personal drama behind the curtain.

  • Off-Broadway and regional theatre hit comedy from the creator of TV’s Smash
  • Portland Premiere

RUN TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission


Ayanna Berkshire +^


Gavin Hoffman +


+ Member of Actors Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the U.S.

^ Artists Rep Resident Artist


Theresa Rebeck


Michael Mendelson +*^


Scenic Designer: Megan Wilkerson #^

Lighting Designer: Kristeen Willis Crosser #

Costume Designer: Sarah Gahagan

Production Assistant: Michael Stahler

Production Assistant: Tori Zanalari

Board Op: Phil Johnson

Composer & Sound Designer: Rodolfo Ortega ^

Wardrobe: Will Bailey

Resident Fight Choreographer : Jonathan Cole *

+ Member of Actors Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the U.S.

* Member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society

# The scenic, costume, lighting, projection & sound designers are represented by United Scenic Artists

^ Artists Rep Resident Artist


"...all three (actors) are up to it, shifting and accelerating pretty much effortlessly under Michael Mendelson’s smooth and swiftly paced direction, and the evening bubbles along on a light sea of laughter, affection, and appreciation for the acting art."
- Bob Hicks, Oregon ArtsWatch

"…smart, streamlined production at Artists Repertory Theatre directed by Michael Mendelson blends raucous humor with grim yet poignant insights…"
-Holly Johnson, The Oregonian

"It’s a strong start to the season for a theater clicking with the rhythm of a watch and continuing to provide interesting material year after year."
Joe Jatcko,

"It feels less like watching a play and more like eavesdropping on a mashup of backstage goings-on and a late-night literary debate in a dark cafe. It's also very funny..."
Krista Garver,

"I haven't laughed so hard at a show since I was watching a stand-up comic perform."
Meg Currell, EDGE Media

“It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry, but laugh I did. A lot."
-Judy Nedry,

“…the fifth character, unseen, is the set itself, takes on a life of its own.”
-Dennis Sparks, Dennis Sparks Reviews

"...a masterpiece of comic clockwork. Pulverizingly funny!"
- Wall Street Journal

"A razor-sharp black comedy..."
- Entertainment Weekly


Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)
by Katrin Kasper

Kafka was born in Prague to a Jewish family with German heritage. He was the eldest of six children, two of whom died before the age of three. His childhood was bleak; his father was cold and domineering, and never approved of his son's literary habits. As the oldest child and only son, Kafka was pressured to succeed. After finishing university, he began a career as a lawyer, writing in his spare time. Kafka had many mental and physical health problems throughout his life– it is believed he suffered from anxiety and depression. He contracted tuberculosis in 1917, but the disease never fully left him and he died in 1924 at age 41. Kafka's will left instructions to burn all of his unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and letters, but his friends refused to honor his wishes. The Trial and The Castle, which both inspired the fictitious play-within-a-play of The Understudy, were published posthumously.

Kafka's writings play with perception and ambiguity. His main characters are stuck in absurd conflicts, but they never know precisely why. Everyone around them is either apathetic or violently aggressive. Despite these obstacles, Kafka's characters never give up hope. They accept that their persecution may never end; all they ask is that someday, it will be explained.

The Metamorphosis (1915). Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find that he has become an insect. His family tries to be supportive, but his father's hopes for advancement begin to fall apart under financial strain and neighborhood gossip. As their futures fail, the family turns on him. Their annoyance grows to anger, then abuse. Abandoned and isolated, Gregor realizes that he has become a burden to his loved ones. He dies in silence, a forgotten bug.

The Trial (1925). Joseph K. is taken from his bed one morning and arrested. No one, from the men who arrest him, to the lawyers, to the judge, will tell him what he is charged with. Joseph has never worried about the future; he lives in a free country where politics are peaceful and laws are just. But as the surreal trial progresses, it appears he may be hanged without even knowing why.

The Castle (1926). In the dead of winter, a government worker named K. arrives at a rural village to survey the mysterious local castle for civic review. Owned by an absent nobleman and run by a team of cold bureaucrats, the castle holds an almost religious place in the village's feudal culture. The managers and villagers refuse to submit to K.'s survey. Together they form an impassive shield, blocking K. from the castle and viciously cutting him off from all support.