Rodney To and Hoon Lee in SIDES: The Fear Is Real...
Photo © Brian Barenio
Rodney To and Hoon Lee in SIDES: The Fear Is Real...
Photo © Brian Barenio
A poor man's version of Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare, Mr. Miyagi Theater Company's SIDES: The Fear Is Real... strains to find comedy in stereotypes about actors. Sometimes, the play hits the mark, but the company mostly settles for easy punchlines. There's the requisite parody of Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech, a nervous actor in sweat-drenched clothes, and haughty, classically trained thespians flashing their Ivy League credentials. If you enjoy hearing such old jokes rehashed, this may be the show for you, but it offers little else for downtown theatergoers. That's too bad, because Ma-Yi Theater Company -- the Obie Award-winning troupe whose name is attached to the project -- usually offers more substantial fare.

SIDES starts in an audition room with six Asian-American actors, four men and two women, trying to find work in a Caucasian-dominated field. The play is funniest when it's subtle. In one bit, an actor takes off his jacket to reveal a Juilliard shirt and the next actor shames him by walking in wearing a Yale tee. During the same scene, an actor tries to intimidate his competition by flashing his résumé. Other memorable characters include a Japanese schoolgirl, a pretentious Filipino playwright with father issues, and an overzealous choreographer leading inept dancers through difficult routines.

As the show progresses, the actors takes turns lampooning various theater personalities, and the material wears thinner and thinner. Part of the difficulty is that the company wrote the script as an ensemble, and nobody seems to have edited the output. Someone should have pulled the plug on the Hamlet shtick, one of the dustiest routines in the book. Other scenes are funny but drag on too long. For example, one sequence has each of the six actors switching roles between auditioner and auditionee; by the third or so time this happens, the joke has lost all of its freshness.

However, the acting is very strong, and certain performers -- particularly Peter Kim, Rodney To, and Hoon Lee -- should definitely continue doing sketch comedy. Several reviewers have compared SIDES to Saturday Night Live, and that show -- which is not exactly known for casting Asian-American actors -- could use a new pool of talent. Sekiya Billman, Cindy Cheung, and Paul H. Juhn also give capable performances.

David Korins' institutional set, which resembles just about every bland audition space in the city, and John-Paul Szczepanski's basic lighting serve the production well. Elizabeth Flauto's understated costumes accent the performances, and some of the wardrobe pieces turn into memorable sight gags. Nobody is credited with the videography for the live camera audition sequence, but this is one of the show's strongest components. Anne Kaufman's loose direction allows the writers/performers to get carried away from time to time.

There's enough good material here to make up a consistently funny sketch comedy show half the length of SIDES. Especialy humorous are the mock soap opera audition, with the camera zooming in at ridiculous angles, and the final scene, in which the company performs a dance number from a hip-hop musical version of Medea. Unfortunately, the show's lesser moments will make you feel as bored as an actor who's killing time before an audition.