Cal State Fullerton acting major Casey Bowen was tasked with doing a physical comedy bit, so he put on “Eye of the Tiger” and tried to build a house of cards. When “frustration” struck, he pulled out the masking tape.
“It ended with me flailing my arms and the whole house of cards just hanging,” Bowen said.
He has been Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice,” and a gentleman of Verona under the direction of Mark Ramont. In fall 2017, Bowen also took on the role of the Creature in the CSUF adaptation of “Frankenstein.”
As another theater season begins at CSUF, it will be Bowen’s last, as he is a senior in the program.
Bowen is collaborating with Ramont once again in “Taking Steps,” a ‘70s British farce about six interwoven lives in a three-story mansion, which is also rumored to be haunted. A “farce” is considered a satirical play, full of highly improbable situations.
By playwright “King of Comedy” Alan Ayckbourn, it follows a cast of unusual combination of characters: Mark (played by Bowen) dreams of opening up a fishing shop much to his runaway bride Kitty’s dread (Darby Sorich). Drunkard Roland (Joe Stein) attempts to buy the haunted mansion and his wife Elizabeth (Kira Jamison), an overzealous dancer without talent, also is featured in the cast along with a conniving salesman (André Vernot) and timid solicitor (Aaron Ford).
The small, tight-knit cast stood in a circle spewing rap freestyles and test-driving their British accents before rehearsals began. They’ve had a short five-week period to get ready for opening night this Friday, with the final week consisting of technical rehearsals and getting used to playing their characters on stage at the Hallberg Theatre.
“The cast is pretty close and we all have similar senses of humor. Usually we will just hang out before rehearsal. Talking to each other will get us excited to work and we’ll start laughing at all of our jokes,” Sorich said.
In preparation for the performance, Ramont assigned the cast to each tell a narrative joke, practice improvisations and prepare five minutes of stand-up as their characters. Bowen said his role literally puts the other cast members to sleep when he talks, so crafting his stand-up exercise was a unique challenge.
“I did a lot of really dry stuff … I would go, ‘This is some observational humor,’ and I would say these things with really bad punch lines, just really obvious stuff, and I would judge the audience for not laughing at me – and they loved it,” Bowen said. “I think that experience showed me the ropes of how my character operates.”
In the comedy, Bowen plays the role of the “straight man” – where amongst the craziness and hilarity the characters around him deliver, his character hardly ever breaks nor is amused by them, inevitably bringing in additional laughs from the audience.
“It’s just that form of comedy where you’re just kind of standing there, taking it in,” Bowen said. “It was really hard not to laugh in a lot of moments, but even then I say it’s fun to play the ‘straight man.’ The character still has the avenues of just being weird.”
Sorich described “Taking Steps” as “jam-packed with comedic bits” and said she especially loves all the opportunities the script has for them to play with and invent additional humorous moments as actors.
“It’s very high-energy, which I think is good for live theater,” Sorich said. “The different personalities that each character has and the story line that each character go through is very interesting.”
Vernot enjoys the lightheartedness of the show as opposed to when he was in the greek tragedy “Antigone.” The production is also Vernot’s last show at CSUF and he said he is treasuring these moments as he will soon leave the college theatre department.
“Part of me feels like this could be the last production that I get to be in for a while. I am going to put everything I can into this one. Because who knows what comes after this,” he said.
“Taking Steps” opens at the Hallberg Theatre in Clayes Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 23 and will continue until March 18. General admission tickets are $14 and $12 for CSUF students.