10 Out of 12—a bold new play by Anne Washburn now playing at Soho Rep through July 11—refers to the most dreaded of days for production rehearsal: tech. An arduous slog through every light cue, actors’ mark, prop placement and ego-stroke before the first preview, this Actors’ Equity-monitored bit of organized chaos can be enough to make Noises Off seem like the bedrock of normalcy.
Over the course of two acts (with a headset provided to the audience so you can take part in eavesdropping on backstage conversations), you’ll be a first-hand witness–via eyes and ears–to several events as a fictitious company rehearses an incredibly bizarre Sarah Ruhl-meets-Richard Foreman “downtown” play (interestingly, the latter playwright’s name is dropped at one point). A designer deep cuts their hand. A production assistant pesters a good-looking young actor about his physique. Stage management folks wax rhapsodic about the ideal bread for a salami sandwich. A temperamental off-Broadway actor (Thomas Jay Ryan, fearful and funny) has a full-on meltdown. A director (a hilariously droll Bruce McKenzie) expresses second thoughts about costumes, a too-prominent exit sign…and just about everything else.
Les Waters’ fluid production, brilliantly aided by Justin Townsend’s pitch-perfect lighting and Bray Poor’s sound prowess (neither of these tasks must have been easy), hits a few easy targets along the way and as it crosses the 2.5 hour mark, the feeling of ennui settles in the audience as easily as those in an actual tech rehearsal. (Admittedly, that’s pretty darned clever of these folks.)
But Washburn and Waters truly nail the small details: the funny dances actors do to amuse themselves in lulls, the small talk about foodstuffs, the languishing regret of missed projects—the latter explored in a marvelous dual scene where Ryan’s troubled actor gets an unheard talking-to as a backstage crewman recounts missing an opportunity to land a role on a mega-successful TV show. It’s moments like these that keep 10 Out of 12 at a solid 8 out of 10. B+