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Fair Use

a Comedy
by Sarah Gubbins

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3571

SHOWING : November 05, 2009 - December 05, 2009



Sexual politics collide with legal brinksmanship in this whip-smart romantic comedy making its World Premiere on the Actor's Express stage. Sy, an ambitious attorney, is in love with her co-counsel Madi, who in turn is involved with Chris, another lawyer in the firm who is just not quite sure how to express himself. While in the midst of a high-profile legal case, the love triangle gets complicated by a series of seductive, eloquent love letters. This hilarious love story was a 2009 finalist in the Alliance Theatre’s prestigious Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition.

Director Freddie Ashley
Scenic Designer Kathryn Conley
Prop Master Melisa Dubois
Costume Designer Ashley Holmes Reeves
Lighting and Sound Designer Joseph P. Monaghan III
Stage Manager Alicia Quirk
Chris John Benzinger
Sy Rachel Garner
Madi Park Krausen
Bec Laura Krueger
Don Tony Larkin
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Plagiarize This!
by Dedalus
Thursday, December 10, 2009
How do you quantify inspiration?

This is the quandary faced by copyright lawyers everywhere, along with a host of collateral questions. When does inspiration turn into plagiarism? What is the dividing line between “Fair Use” of copyrighted material and theft of it? What is the dividing line between pastiche and unoriginality, between homage and appropriation?

These are the questions at the heart of Sarah Gubbins marvelous new play, “Fair Use,” enjoying a World Premiere production at Actors Express. What makes this play a notch or two better than the standard “play of ideas” is that, at its heart, it’s also a play of people, people bouncing through life buffeted by the winds of passion and deception and fine points of the law.

Chris, Sy, and Madi are lawyers working on the case of Don, a “literary lion” who is being sued for plagiarism. It seems that his latest opus has some vague similarities to an unpublished memoir he had come into contact with years before. Taking a cue from the “My Sweet Lord”/”He’s so Fine” case from a few years back, the unpublished writer is suing Don for plagiarism, though no specific phrases or passages are cited as being stolen.

While this is going on, an office-romance triangle is developing. Unbeknownst to Sy, Chris and Madi have been in a relationship for a few weeks, and tongue-tied Chris is having trouble expressing his feelings to her. Unbeknownst to Chris, Sy and Madi had a “close encounter” following a party, and Sy finds herself falling for Madi, despite the fact that Madi “never dates other women.” Sy types a note (remember typewriters?) expressing her feelings, which Chris steals for his own purposes. What follows is an homage (pastiche? rip-off?) of the old “Cyrano” story, as Chris woos Madi using Sy’s words (and Sy woos Madi using Chris’s face).

Meanwhile, the lawyers are using a literary analyst to show that if Don plagiarized the suspect memoir, he also plagiarized Hemingway, Joyce, and every other author “whose books line my library shelves.” This does not please Don, who passionately disassociates inspiration from plagiarism.

In other words, what we have here is a well-written piece about people involved in a specific situation that shines a spotlight textually and stylistically on all these wonderful questions and ideas. Often funny, always engaging, “Fair Use” pulls us into the world of its characters, and makes us really care about what they think and how they feel.

Director Freddie Ashley has, as usual, collected a top-notch cast that fully brings these characters to life. Rachel Garner is a pleasingly at-sea Sy, showing us the passion she has for Madi, as well as the reticence she has about “crossing the line” into actually falling in love with a straight woman. Park Krausen is a wonderfully engaging Madi, believably the object of desire of anyone of any gender, yet having the individuality and intelligence usually not found in the typical “object of affection” role. And John Benzinger’s Chris is charmingly flummoxed at his inability to express emotions as competently as he can express complex legal conundrums. He’s embarrassed about stealing someone else’s words for his suit, but determined to win Madi no matter what the cost. Filling out the cast, Laura Krueger and Tony Larkin are nicely eccentric in their plot-centric roles, adding dimension to the suits (both legal and romantic) on display.

Kat Conley and Joseph Monaghan have collaborated on a beautifully designed and lit set, coldly impersonal as a law office should be, but coming alive with a subtle shift of lighting to suggest nothing less than the inside of a beating heart when the matter turns to love. “Cover Versions” of hit songs provide a nicely ironic soundtrack. This is, indeed, a production where script, design, direction, and performance all come together for an experience that provides equal pleasure for head and heart and imagination.

And, since many of my columns are constructed as pastiches of a particular play's style or content, it’s nice to be reminded that the fine line between “Fair Use” and plagiarism isn’t a line at all, but a mercurial spectrum that changes shape and boundary with every situation and every observer. It’s an argument that will be with us as long there is creativity.

-- Brad Rudy (

by playgoer
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Like "Charley's Aunt," Sarah Gubbins' "Fair Use" starts with a lovestricken person trying aloud the salutation of a lovenote. Like "Cyrano DeBergerac," it uses the device of one person feeding romantic words to another to woo a third person with whom the first two are infatuated. Like Neil Simon plays, it puts comic one-liners in the mouths of its cast.

Does this constitute plagiarism? No, of course not. It's a clever way of underlining the theme of the play, which explores the dividing line between plagiarism and literary influence. It's clear that Sarah Gubbins has had a lot of literary influences, and they have permitted her to craft an entertaining, razor-sharp script. The cracklingly direct dialogue contrasts nicely with the somewhat florid love letter verbiage, showing off her overall skill with language.

It's easy to imagine the cast filled with sitcom actors or celebrities who would bring their own unique takes to the roles. (Ellen DeGeneres as Sy? Rosie O'Donnell as Bec? Neil Patrick Harris as Chris?) That's not to say that the current cast isn't talented. John Benzinger in particular, as Chris, brings just the right comic tone to his role. Laura Krueger, as Bec, brings full comedic force to her role. More subdued performances come from Rachel Garner, in the lead role of Sy; Park Krausen, as love interest Madi; and Tony Larkin, as author Don. All are directed by Freddie Ashley in a way that punches the laugh lines in character-specific ways.

The action takes place on a lovely unit set designed by Kat Conley. The plot zips along, with scene transitions neatly accomplished by the actors who enter and exit in dim light, but always in character. This is a world premiere, so it presumably could be tweaked to an even higher level of accomplishment, but there's nothing that stands out as a "needs work" moment in the playwrighting.

I saw only two points that could have been improved in the current production. During a phone conversation, mention is made of how Madi is undoubtedly reacting, but the words don't obviously match what Park Krausen is doing. A little less subtlety would work for the moment. The second act has a golf putting session with Chris and Don, but neither role is cast with a person who comes across particularly like a golfer, so it seems like a superfluous directorial touch. With different casting, it might have seemed more natural.

Like that hack William Shakespeare, Sarah Gubbins has taken elements of existing works and pulled them together in a way that is uniquely her own. It's impossible at this point to foretell how her career will play out, but this is certainly an auspicious start both for the play and for its playwright. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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