Sam Rockwell, sporting a tuxedo printed t-shirt and a silk top hat, grooved, slid, shook and shimmied across a Broadway stage Monday night in an impromptu dance-off. He took on Justin Long in a short play written just 24 hours before. The two men–accompanied by an ensemble including Olivia Wilde, Amber Heard, Vanessa Hudgens, Billy Crudup, Diane Neal, Rosie Perez, and America Ferrera–participated in one of six scenes at last night's "24 Hour Plays."
"24 Hour Plays," an annual New York fundraiser for Urban Arts Partnership sponsored by Mont Blanc, thrivesupon improvisational goofing (last year's review here). The 2012 crew started working Sunday with one full day to script, stage, rehearse and perform six short plays. At the behest of a group of writers and theater directors, a small cadre of celebrity actors plunged into ridiculous attire and absurd situations. Zosia Mamet donned an all-red jumpsuit and an enormous horse mask, Amber Tamblyn pranced in a pink fluffy princess costume, and both Billy Crudup and Justin Long were squeezed into belly-baring Hooters shirts.
Though some of the plays couldn't break their actors out of easy and expected roles ("30 Rock" page Jack McBrayer played a quirky, wide-eyed optimistic innocent), sometimes playing to their strengths allowed them to shine. If Rockwell's got the moves, shouldn't he get down? Why not allow Rosie Perez to show some attitude as a fuming apartment tenant wrapped in a bathrobe and hair-curlers?
The two standout sketches of the evening were both realistic and far-fetched. Theresa Rebeck's "Workday" pitted an ingenue secretary (Vanessa Hudgens) against office mean girls (Amber Heard and Emmanuelle Chriqui), as well as neurotic bosses (Maura Tierney, Anthony Mackie, Fisher Stevens). The play captured the confusion of walk-and-talk office environments.
Rachel Axler's "Horse" effortlessly created a playful and childish dreamscape, with Zosia Mamet, Jack McBrayer, Taran Killam, and Gina Gershon, whose last name had an achoo-sound: D'Jeunefl[sneeze]. It was whimsical and lovely.
The final scene unintentionally summarized the downtime that follows an all-nighter. Rachel Dratch goes to dinner with someone she met on Z-Date, a zombie dating website. Playing to New York laughter, Dratch asked America Ferrera which was worse — he was a zombie or he was a banker?
The answer was given by another play: the worst thing is to be dressed like a Williamsburg hipster. After the send-up ended, the entire cast for the evening came out, arms outstretched, eyes glazed.