It's the theater version of a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage when he sees a gap in the defense, knowing a different play could result in a touchdown.
Less than a week before opening, Marin Summer Theater found itself with a male leading role wide open on the cast of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest because of the actor's schedule conflict. The company, comprised of student actors, didn't have an understudy ready to seamlessly step in, leaving MST artistic director Pat Nims and Earnest director Jim Poulos in a bit of a pickle.
The solution was to tap the play's assistant director and stage manager for the role — despite that she is a she.
Rose Oser, a graduate and a theater student at Cal, joined the cast last weekend in the central role of Algernon, one of two gentleman at the heart of the story. Oser played man leading roles in San Marin High drama productions.
"We had a number of options for a new Algernon, but Jim and I both felt that Rose was not only right for the role, but also stood the best chance to learn the part in five days," Nims said.
Poulos added, “When it came time to consider Rose as the replacement, we had her memorize and audition a scene with Jane Reagan, our Cecily, and it played beautifully.”
Oser said her familiarity with the lines, knowing where her character was supposed to be on stage and her hands-on approach during early rehearsals has made the transition go pretty well. She still had a lot of memorization to do in a four-day span, but the benefits are making up for the stress.
"I am enjoying playing the role of a man because I don't have to wear a corset or heels," she said. "Also, I get to talk with my mouth full."
Some believe Algernon's character best represents Oscar Wilde himself. It is not the first time that a gender change has been made in a Wilde production. In a recent Broadway revival of the play, the Roundabout Theater Company’s production starred Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell, the mother of one of the ladies being courted by the lovesick men.
“I have heard of other productions with Bracknell being cast as a man, Poulos said, “but not Algernon. It works pretty wonderfully. And Rose has such a fine handle on the language that you really get Oscar Wilde's voice.
“Rose is wonderful physically as an actor. She fits the type of a dandy perfectly. She has a great sense of style and a light touch with words, so it's really exciting to see her playing the part. Her castmates have all had to step up their game to keep up.”
Oser complimented the patience of Poulos, a Broadway actor ("Rent") from Novato who is relatively new at directing.
"Jim is a wonderful and encouraging director, so this whole process has gone as smoothly as possible," she said.
Nims said the audience is likely to forget they'll be watching a woman playing a man.
"You get so caught up in the story that all you are aware of is the humor and ridiculousness of the situations," he said. "It also doesn't hurt that her hair is about the same length of Oscar Wilde's."
Carl Oser, a recent USC graduate who also spent time on stage during his San Marin days, said he is confident his younger sister will nail it.
"As a performer, I think it's about getting the job done," he said. "Rose is a professional. ... She did her homework and I think it's going to be great."
The last performances of The Importance of Being Earnest will be held on July 14 at 8pm and on July 15 at 2pm at the Emily Gates Student Center on the San Marin campus in Novato. Tickets are available at www.MarinSummerTheater.org and at the door.
After Earnest, MST will present the family friendly and popular favorite Legally Blonde, The Musical on July 26, 27, 28, 29, also at San Marin. Tickets and details for all performances are available at www.MarinSummerTheater.org.
In its fourth season, MST is a nonprofit theater company composed of student actors, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, designers, technicians, and crew. It recently completed a run of Spring Awakening, which was staged at the Playhouse in San Anselmo.