• Julia Dratel
  • Colm O’Reilly’s Stanislavski confers with his doppelgangers in An Actor Prepares

It’s understood that Mickle Maher builds fascinating plays out of unlikely materials—connecting a presidential debate with Albert Camus’s The Stranger, for instance, or putting Beethoven and Quasimodo together on a panel about Chekhov. And it’s no secret that Colm O’Reilly has brought a rare proficiency to his performances in those plays. But both Maher and O’Reilly break through to new levels with An Actor Prepares, Maher’s script named for a textbook written by fabled Russian theater artist Konstantin Stanislavski.

Oddly enough, Stanislavski’s classic primer might’ve lent itself nicely to a straight stage adaptation: the maestro framed it as the diary of a student called Kostya, who sits at the feet of his mentor, Tortsov (i.e., Stanislavski), absorbing the wise old man’s system and attempting his exercises. Good potential for oedipal tension there, at the very least. Maybe even a Black Swan kind of thing between Kostya and one of his classmates.

But Maher has (not unexpectedly) gone another way, choosing instead to give us his version of the making of An Actor Prepares.

It’s 1935 and Stanislavski has writer’s block. The book he’s been mulling for the last 30 years remains nothing more than a wild gleam in his eye. He arranges to give a lecture that will allow him to talk his thoughts out before an audience (us) and so, he hopes, achieve the clarity he needs to carry on. Dressed in a three-piece gray wool suit, O’Reilly’s Stanislavski uses a newsboy’s cap to play Kostya and pince-nez to indicate Tortsov.