Arts & Leisure

Engrossing “Lessons” at Golden West

SCOTT KEISTER and Maggie Underwood star in “Acting; the First Six Lessons” at Golden West College (GWC photo).

By Thom deMartino 

In the darkness of the theater, be it live or cinematic, we lose ourselves in the lines and tales so those we never knew but somehow through the production learn to relate to. But what about those who portrayed these characters to bring them to life, how many make it real not only to the audience, but to themselves?

This is the quandary of both the book and the production “Acting: the First Six Lessons”, directed by Tom Amen and now playing at the Golden West College Mainstage theater. More than just a play, “Acting” demonstrates not only the actor’s craft, but the way we interrelate to each other, and how the tools of the method actor can be applied as a philosophy through which to view our lives.

The Teacher (Scott Keister) sits alone, pondering his chessboard when there is a knock at his door; a young actress (Maggie Underwood), hoping to hone her skills from the renowned instructor, to learn the dramatic art.

“NO!” he interjects, “…Art cannot be taught.” Referring to her as a “lovely creature” (she remains nameless to the audience,  known only as “The Creature” in the story), he explains that one must have talent, and if so, that talent must be developed through hard work. When she explains that the theater is everything to her, he asks her to play a scene from her most recent production, and it’s… Shall we say, unrefined.

When he bemusedly suggests that she should give up the theater, she resolutely refuses: and seeing her so resigned, the Teacher begins his first lesson to his new pupil — concentration.

“Acting is the life of the human soul receiving its birth through art,” he explains. “In a creative theater, the object for an actor’s concentration is the human soul.”

She takes his advice to heart in her next audition, and finds it certainly enhances her performance: but perhaps not enough to land the role… this time, anyway. But she has learned something about herself in the process of creating — and as time passes she returns to the Teacher, realizing there is so much more to learn.

Another challenging production in a series of thought-provoking shows at Golden West’s Mainstage Theater, “Acting” is a lesson not only for Underwood’s Creature, but the audience: the viewer finds that these lessons would seem not only to apply to the art of acting, but could perhaps, too, be seen as a meditation on life, of being in the moment. There’s a philosophical bent to the story of an evolving soul, who’s not only growing as an artist, but as a more well-rounded, fully realized human being.

Keister’s Teacher himself is no all-knowing sage, but instead responsive to the evolution of his protege, giving her what advice and knowledge she can process at the time. And while one lesson may build upon the previous, individually they themselves could easily have years spent upon them, pondering the application and inner meaning of each.

It is an unusual show: performed by two remarkable thespians (Keister and Underwood both being veterans of other Mainstage productions), — but what is more astounding (aside from “Acting” being a two-person show, all roles portrayed by the duo), is the interaction with the audience; becoming not only entertainment, but a passing of knowledge to the viewer as well. And it’s an engrossing and valuable lesson that the theater patron will carry with them, long after the final curtain has fallen.

As with most GWC productions, the run of “Acting: The First Six Lessons” is all too brief: but with three more shows left, there’s more than enough time to learn something about the art of acting — and yourself.

“Acting: The First Six Lessons”, Scott Keister and Maggie Underwood star in this beautifully peculiar and captivating two-person show about theater art, and the art of living.  Playing through Sunday, March 15 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at Four stars.


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