Class is a class act and then some. It’s riveting entertainment. It’s years’ worth of acting lessons rolled up into two masterful performances by GILDART JACKSON (Elliot) and CALLIE SCHUTTERA (Sarah.)
Class is also a lesson in great playwriting. Playwright CHARLES EVERED gives us dialogue that is elevating without being elevated. Director DIMITRI TOSCAS polishes every facet of this jewel of a play and allows its Shakespearean spirit to comfortably don the garb of modern day sensibilities.
Class begins with Elliot confronting his new students, invisibly among us in the audience. They had to pass an audition with him even to be admitted to his celebrated acting class. All the same, in spite of their showing “some promise of talent,” he tells them that nearly all will fail to make a living at acting, never mind rising to stardom. But, he continues, the few who really succeed will gain the power to move their audiences, whether a few dozen or many millions.
It’s a great, Pattonesque opener, one that challenges us to consider what does—or should—move uncounted thousands to gamble their lives and fortunes on an acting career.
Later, Sarah enters Elliot’s studio. She had not done the audition, and had missed the first class, but hopes she can take acting lessons from Elliot nonetheless. Elliot asks the twenty something about her experience, but even her high school acting resume seems spotty. Still, there’s something about her unmistakably sincere desire to learn the art of acting, not to mention a nagging sense of familiarity. Elliot decides to make an exception and give Sarah lessons.
The play goes on to move in unexpected directions, following its own brilliant logic. Elliot and Sarah each have their own heart-wrenching crosses to bear, and they allow us to see that mastering the craft of acting can lead to mastering the art of living.
Class invites us to consider where honesty is more at home: when we put on a play in a theatre, or when we put up an act outside it? Truth is more than true statements. Honesty roots itself in a shared understanding, and can no more endure without an underlying context than can a flower without water. Example: A certain politician, when asked about possible past drug use, said that he had violated no domestic laws. He had made a true statement but hoped that most listeners wouldn’t catch that he shifted the intended context of the question: did he smoke a joint or didn’t he?
Acting gives us the context can sometimes be deliberately hidden from us in real life. And here’s a fine irony for you: actors are never more honest than when revealing the truth of the made-up story they are in and being the made-up characters they are pretending to be. And this leads to an occupational hazard: actors may carry this honesty into their own very real lives, with painful realizations that can’t be left on the stage.
Empathy can be another occupational hazard. To understand characters is to understand people, and that quality, as well, can spill over into real life.
A third hazard is good taste. It may be hard to mouth day-to-day vulgarities after Shakespeare’s rolled off your tongue.
Elliot has succumbed to all three of these hazards, abetted by Callie’s own circumstances.
GILDART had once been a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer, one who had been offered a partnership. But he had come to realize that his ladder of success was leaning against the wrong wall. So he went from representing actors to being one, with both film and TV credits, and thereby defying the odds that his Elliot had so eloquently laid out. CALLIE is an apt pupil in real life with a physical grace on stage that belies her modest disclaimers when asked about her dancing background.
As Class neared its end, there was sniffling and even audible sobbing from the audience. It seems that GILDART and CALLIE themselves are among the few who have gained the power to move the human heart with the truth of their art.
Class continues through Sunday, April 19 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank. Performances occur Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets range from $36.50 to $44.00, but there’s a Student Rate (valid student ID required) of $29.00. For tickets, call the Falcon Theatre Box Office at (818) 955-8101 or visit FalconTheatre.com.