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The Understudy

September 26, 2008

Rebecca (Marin Ireland) is a woefully unemployed actress, trying and failing to scratch a living by being creative in New York. For cash, she cares for a blind diabetic woman, but this earns her endless derision from her infuriatingly judgemental WASPy family.

To her utter astonishment she nabs a job understudying for eye candy action heroine Simone Harwin, in an off-Broadway production of the Sophocles play, Electra. Simone is rubbish, of course, and, during a break for illness, Rebecca outshines her and receives massive press plaudits, in so doing filling the theatre. On Simone’s return she is reduced immediately back to the production’s dogsbody.

When Simone suffers a terrible accident (which is almost but not quite totally not Rebecca’s fault), the lead is swapped back, but before long another leading lady is found, the simply mind-numbingly awful Greta (Gloria Reuben, in fabulous form). Infuriated, Rebecca takes a what-the-hell decision to take Greta out of the picture as well. Despite getting cold feet at the last moment, the plan goes horribly right and suddenly Rebecca is back in the front line again.

As Rebecca’s star ascends, she tries to juggle her stage career, her alibis, her guilt and her pal Sarfras, a budding scriptwriter, who may have just sealed a big Hollywood part for her, only so long as she can keep her theatrical profile trundling along at a steadily respectable level.

The Understudy is a neatly entertaining riff on the maxim that you should be careful what you wish for. Not a soul here is in any way pleasant or charitable; even the excellent Marin Ireland is, at the end of the day, responsible for the demise of some perfectly innocent (if odious and self-serving) people in pursuit of her dreams of stardom. Yet, it works, for what we have here is a sleek, cheeky and subtle manipulation of our feelings and sensibilities as we move, roaming camera style, among the company, threading ourselves through a crowd of the vain, the deluded and pitiful.


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