Secret Hour at theRep: a Journey of Lies, Laughter, and Deceit

ALBANY – According to Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, Producing Artistic Director at theRep, her opening night curtain speech talked about the purpose of theRep. Its primary function, and I paraphrase, is to present a venue for talent. To foster an environment for playwrights to hone their craft. To get constructive criticism and, if the play is good enough, have it produced, thus allowing a springboard for not only a full-blown production with all of the bells and whistles given to theRep’s productions, but also to allow the playwright the opportunity to see their work fully fleshed out and realized.

Joshua David Robinson and Marina Shay

Currently, theRep audiences are being treated to Jenny Stafford’s Secret Hour. Stafford is an award-winning playwright, bookwriter, and lyricist. Her works have been seen around the world, from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to Broadway, to Lincoln Center, Joe’s Pub, and 54 Below to name but a few. Secret Hour came to theRep through the company’s Next Act? New Play Summit. 

The play goes through a series of iterations, from being in a group of readings of unproduced works, to synopsis clinics, to being read by a group of 25 persons all without any idea of who the playwright is. Ultimately, the playwright is brought in for private readings, rehearsals, and finally, a production. Secret Hour rose to the top every step of the way. A lot of pressure for a world premiere to go through and get its legs for an actual production with a paying audience. Important background work in understanding where this production has traveled in order to appreciate its current destination.

Marina Shay is Kate, an ethics professor at a university. She welcomes her class to Ethics 10, where she begins by telling them the final exam is one question. Are ethics decided upon what is right for the individual, or are ethics decided on what is right for the community as a whole? Nietzsche vs Confucius. Throughout the semester, the class will be discussing and exploring both sides of the philosophical debate. There is, she offers, no right or wrong answer, just how you defend it. And, do not lie, she will catch you.

Whit K. Lee

Workaholic Kate is married to Ben, played by Joshua David Robinson, an unemployed programmer who works at Best Buy in their Geek Squad. The two are constantly having work done in their home by Leaf, (Whit K.Lee) who never seems to leave and is always listening in and commenting on their lives. Kate and Ben play a game called “secret hour,” a no-judgment zone where they can tell each other their deepest darkest secrets without fear of recrimination. Of course, Leaf is always listening. Leaf is a handyman who left college to find himself, has decided to become a life coach, and is a very lonely person.

The three performers are beautifully cast. Opening night, it felt as though Shay was a bit on edge during her opening scenes in the lecture hall and when she first arrives home. Once her frenetic pace gave way to a more even keel, she settled into the role. Robinson is much more controlled. He has a more consistent feeling of underlying sadness throughout, until as the show reaches its denouement, it all boils over. Lee is a delight to watch. His comic timing and delivery are spot on. The three performers, all new to theRep stage, are wonderful additions to the lineup of performers.

The three actors have given Secret Hour a realistic life. The show invites you in, to watch the cracks and lies in their lives burst through their veneers. It is performed with great humor, strong delivery, and a large serving of sadness and deceit. 

Marina Shay and Joshua David Robinson

Margaret E. Hall, the Rep’s Associate Artistic Director, has taken the reins to deftly direct the trio through the complex minefield of emotions Shay has woven into the fabric of her characters.  David McQuillen Robertson’s set design is stunning. Combined with Travis McHale’s lighting design, you will feel right at home with Kate and Ben.

Secret Hour is not yet a perfect play, but all the bones are there. It is engaging, fun, sad, and emotional. The 90-plus minute run time with no intermission may, in time, be able to be expanded into a full two-act show without losing any of the drama we have been presented with. Or, perhaps, it is right the way it is. Rather like ethics, it is mostly in the eyes, hands, and minds of the beholders. 

Bravo to theRep and all involved for being willing to go out on a limb, encouraging and nurturing talent. As a community, each one of us should go and support the process. You will be happy you did. Secret Hour is a very satisfying time spent in the theatre. 

Secret Hour runs through Feb. 19. For more information or tickets: or call the box office: 518-346-6204.

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