THE DEAD GUYby Eric Coble
Proper Hijinx Productions
Directed by – Stefany Cambra
Set Design – Stefany Cambra
Lighting Designer – Jason Foster
Sound Designer – Anne Marie Coleman
Costume Designer – Ryan Shaap
Props Designer – Stefany Cambra
Stage Manager – Katie Brown
Catherine D. Dubord – Gina
Jeff Burleson – Eldon
Jeff Swearingen – Dougie
Nicole Denson – Roberta/Woman/Sheila
Shane Strawbridge – Virgil/Security Guard/Leon
Juliette Talley – Christy/Woman/Nancy
David Meglino – Commercial Voiceovers
Photos by George Wada
Reviewed Performance: 1/29/2016
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Dead Guy, however, had me intrigued several years before Proper Hijinx’s excellent production, currently playing at the Studio Theatre in the Addison Conference and Theatre Center (better known as WaterTower). It’s got a great hook: you get a million dollars to spend over the next seven days while a camera crew follows you everywhere and broadcasts your adventures on national TV. At the end of that week, you die, and (here’s the best part) the viewing audience gets to vote on how you die.
Meet Eldon Phelps. He’s just been fired from his latest in a string of dead-end jobs, his girlfriend has dumped him, and he’s about to be evicted. Enter Gina Yaweth, a fast talking reality TV producer desperate for a hit...and she’s looking for someone just like Eldon for her last-ditch effort at a successful show. Jeff Burleson plays Eldon with just the right amounts of loser and charm. You can see why he has nothing to lose, but also why Gina thinks the audience would take to him. Mr. Burleson brings lots of layers to a character that could easily be ruined by a one-note performance.
Catherine D. DuBord plays Gina, one of those characters we love to hate, and hate her we do! (That’s a compliment.) She is arrogant and selfish and pushy, yet she knows how to turn on that beautiful smile of hers to make someone – anyone – do what she wants them to. Like Eldon, Gina is a deceptively complex role that could have been ruined in the hands of a lesser actress, but Ms. DuBord expertly portrays her with just the right touch.
As cameraman Dougie, Jeff Swearingen doesn’t have a lot of lines, yet his body language and facial expressions speak volumes as the action unfolds and he provides us with an audience of our own to watch as he reacts to Eldon’s antics and Gina’s outbursts. It’s a beautifully subtle performance.
The other nine parts in the play are split among Nicole Denson, who particularly shines as Eldon’s mother, Shane Strawbridge, and Juliette Talley. Each actor brings something new to every character they bring to the stage, and they make a nice ensemble. Costumer Ryan Schaap does an excellent job helping them differentiate the unique roles, and I was particularly amused with the costumes worn by the Disneyland hookers. I was less impressed with Mr. Schaap’s costuming of Eldon, especially when he was in the same costume the last couple of days of filming, which seemed too long. However, the choice of tighty whiteys whenever Eldon was in his underwear was genius, and I applaud Mr. Burleson for wearing them with pride.
I also questioned the progression of Ms. DuBord’s costumes going from black to white throughout the show. That felt backwards to me - shouldn’t she have gone from white to black? Perhaps the symbolism escaped me.
Director Stefany Cambra did an exceptional job moving her actors around the simple set, which she also designed, and Jason Foster’s lighting was also simple and effective. There were a few technical difficulties the night I was there, but as the show started over twenty minutes late (!) without any sort of announcement, I wonder if there were things happening backstage or in the booth that the audience wasn’t privy to.
Ms. Cambra is an outstanding director. She brings out the best in her actors and she truly understands this piece, which I, quite frankly, feel is flawed at the end. But as she slowly teases out the layers of The Dead Guy, she makes us care about everyone, even the unlikeable Gina. Hard to do, and very nicely done.
The Dead Guy is a stronger piece overall than Proper Hijinx’s inaugural production of Two Rooms, which was also top notch. It is truly a must see, and it is to their detriment – and ours as their patrons – that they have only two shows left, so I highly recommend that you go see it and at least give them full houses for those final two performances. You won’t regret it.
Proper Hijinx Productions
performing at the Studio Theatre at the Addison Theatre Center
15650 Addison Rd., Addison, TX 75001
Runs through February 7.
Actual days: Saturday, February 6 at 7:30 and Sunday, February 7 at 2:30. Tickets are $ 12.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.properhijinx.com