In lieu of actual lessons, Elliot spends much of the time talking about the craft of acting and what it means to be an actor. Still, his lone student in this two-character play, Sarah (Callie Schuttera), an American movie star in her late 20s, does not ask for her money back.
She’s fascinated by his brilliant, cynical, disheveled, gay, middle-aged, self-loathing, substance-abusing British teacher.
What does Sarah care if she never learns how to convincingly emote or where to find her motivation? Sarah has it right. Playwright Charles Evered has created a character in Elliot who I would eagerly follow through a 10-part series. There’s something about a highly articulate, icy Brit — like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing or Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher — that is utterly irresistible.
A film actress since her teens, Sarah never did much theater. Her swift ascent, which includes a current movie set in some future place, among human-like creatures, suggests the career of Jennifer Lawrence. But now she wants to audition for the part of a British woman in an upcoming film. She needs Elliot’s help in developing the skills to give her a chance.
Elliot, who doesn’t recognize Sarah, tells her she’s too late for the season and to return at a later time. But actresses are nothing if not persistent; Sarah comes back the next day, unannounced, and insists Elliot take her on. He hasn’t got a chance against her coquettish charms and determination.
A clash of cultures provides much of the subsequent humor. Sarah is an exemplar of 21st-century Californiaspeak — the word “like” appears at least once in every other sentence — and has a propensity to cock her head just so while flashing the cutest smile. Compared with Elliot’s demeanor and elocution, she might as well truly hail from another planet.
At one point, Elliot naively asks whether Sarah received “half-a-million dollars” for her latest picture. When she tells him the true number, plus a percentage of the box office, his stunned response is hilarious.
Evered changes the mood in the last 20 minutes by having Sarah reveal a personal secret to Elliot. Not long after, Sarah lets Elliot know that from a simple online search, she has discovered one of his secrets.
A play that had been primarily about actors and acting now trades in Real Stuff.
You can attend many productions in many places and rarely witness a performance as confident as Jackson’s in “Class.” Even when Elliott utters a familiar phrase, Jackson draws out the words, slowly, as if to dare us to do something about it. Instead, we surrender, meekly; this actor had us firmly on his side beginning with his marvelous opening monologue. It only gets better from there.
Schuttera shines in the final third of the play, when the emotional emphasis shifts from Elliot to Sarah.
Director Dimitri Toscas makes excellent use of Francois-Pierre Couture’s ample, tasteful set. Costume designer Terri A. Lewis has provided a slew of terrific outfits for Sarah, who quickly changes into and out of them at the side of the stage. Sound designer Robert Arturo Ramirez selected a beautiful, haunting string piece for the soundtrack.
“Class” is performed Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. through April 19. Ticket prices range from $29 (students) to $44. To purchase tickets, call 818-955-8101 or go online at falcontheatre.com. The Falcon Theatre is located at 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, 91505.