Like any good reality television show, “Cut,” opening Friday at the Greenbelt Arts Center, offers themes of “love, jealousy and ambition.” But instead of focusing on the characters in front of the camera, “Cut” tells the story of those working behind the scenes.
Written by Crystal Skillman, “Cut” was first produced in New York in 2011. The Greenbelt Arts Center production is produced by Beltsville-based theater company Thunderous Productions Inc., and is directed by Rick Starkweather. This weekend’s run in Greenbelt is the first show in the Washington, D.C., region.
“Cut” follows Danno (Jeff Robert), Collette (Kenny Hahn) and Rene (Vanessa Terzaghi), three young writers and editors on a fictional reality TV program called “Ladies of Malibu.”
“Think of it as ‘The Real Housewives’ but with class,” says Robert.
The play opens with the three main characters stressed out and frustrated after handing in their final cut of the show, only to have it rejected by producers. Danno, Collette and Rene have six hours to come up with a new ending.
As the story line unfolds, it’s revealed that the “Ladies of Malibu” aren’t the only ones dealing with drama in their lives.
“[Rene] tells stories about the sadness and infidelity and the roles they play in other people’s life while she’s dealing with [those things],” says Terzaghi. “There’s some internal conflict; she’s struggling with a marriage that’s failing.”
Both Danno and Collette are also working to overcome their own difficulties.
“Danno feels guilty about having left his disabled sister with his parents,” says Robert. “[Collette] is pregnant and doesn’t know what she wants to do about it.”
While the circumstances surrounding their characters certainly seem like they would elicit sympathy, Robert and Terzaghi say it took them some time to warm up to the characters they portray.
“At first it was a challenge,” says Robert. “At first I didn’t understand [Danno]. It didn’t make sense. After reading it for a while and going through the rehearsal ... it made more sense the kind of person he is.”
“On first read, I didn’t think I liked any of these characters,” adds Terzaghi. “[Now] ... through our portrayal of the characters ... I actually like [Rene] quite a bit.”
Terzaghi says audiences will likely notice similarities between “Cut,” and the reality programming they tune into. The play features talking-head confessionals, a concept originated by one of the first reality television shows, MTV’s “The Real World.”
“Each of our characters has [a confessional],” says Terzaghi. “... A moment to endear us to the character.”
Terzaghi says a personal experience with reality television helped her better understand “Cut’s” commentary on how reality TV tends to blur the line between what is real and what’s not.
Terzaghi’s younger sister and father appeared on an episode of another MTV reality show, “MADE,” in which a camera crew follows a teenager aiming for self-improvement, whether it means making the soccer team or becoming popular. One show featured a classmate of Terzaghi’s sister and Terzaghi says the show taught her whole family a lot about the truths of reality television.
“[It] gave us a glimpse into how, on reality TV, a normal person can be made out to be a monster,” says Terzaghi.
While Terzaghi and Robert both admit they struggled to understand the play’s message at first, Terzaghi says it is a line from Robert’s character that finally gave her some clarity on “Cut’s” message to audiences.
“The play can be summed up in a line: ‘Reality is written, reality is planned,’” says Terzaghi. “It’s speaking about [‘Ladies of Malibu’] but also ... our daily lives are a reality but in a sense, we just walk through them ambiguously.”
“It’s a very sobering thought.”