Theater Camp is a charming mockumentary with a lot of heart

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
DRAMA-RAMA: Drama teachers Amos Klobuchar (Ben Platt, foreground right) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon, foreground left) struggle to maintain their working relationship and put on a show, in the hilarious mockumentary Theater Camp, screening exclusively at the Palm Theatre of San Luis Obispo.

Theater nerds, unite! Co-writers, co-directors, and co-stars Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman (with two more co-writing credits from co-stars Noah Galvin and Ben Platt) have the mockumentary for you. Amy Sedaris stars as Joan Rubinsky, who with Rita Cohen (Caroline Aaron) operates a financially struggling theater camp in upstate New York called … wait for it … AdirondACTS. Just before their summer session is about to begin, Joan falls into a strobe light-induced coma, leaving her earnest but clueless son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), to try to make it through the season. Troy must juggle the many quirky personalities of both the instructors and students and keep the camp from falling into foreclosure. (114 min.) 

Glen: If you’re a fan of the work of Christopher Guest—This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Waiting for Guffman—you’ll love Theater Camp. Its ensemble cast is filled with loveable oddball characters such as stage manager Glenn Winthrob (Galvin), who’s a wildly talented performer whose skills are wasted running errands for the less talented but far more pompous theater directors like Amos Klobuchar (Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon). The campers—Mackenzie Thomas (Bailee Bonick), Devon Miller (Donovan Colan), Lainy Fischer (Vivienne Sachs), Alan Park (Alan Kim), and others—are adorable. This camp is like a second home for kids who aren’t stereotypical. The cast turns in terrific performances, the musical numbers are a lot of fun, and even for those who never caught the acting bug themselves, I bet you’ll be entertained by this feel-good film. 

Anna: I would have killed for a camp like this as a kid. I felt every second of these kids’ experience, from the nervousness of auditions to the agony and ecstasy that comes when the cast list is posted, to what it means to have found your crew. Amos and Rebecca-Diane are ex-campers who fall into the familiar clichés of drama teachers and musical coaches—this is their life! But something doesn’t feel right between the two from the beginning, and it seems Rebecca-Diane may be maturing out of their long-standing codependent relationship to move on to bigger things than summer camp. While Troy comes off as a typical bro (think of someone who describes themselves as a club promoter/DJ/finance guy, and you’ve got it), he actually proves to be a bit endearing in the end. Still not great, but at least his heart ends up in the right place. I personally love this style of film and love to see filmmakers take it on. Guest is a genius at it, but Gordon and Leiberman hold their own with Theater Camp. It’s quirky and funny and a perfect peek behind the curtain of every K-12 production I was a part of. Joan says that theater people can turn cardboard into gold, and that holds true with Theater Camp.

Glen: One of the film’s joys is watching “crypto bro” Troy realize how much this safe space means to the campers and how much the teachers care not only about the kids but about the magic of live theater. The film captures the camaraderie and the trust needed to mount a show, as well as the guts it takes to get up on stage and put yourself out there, risking your ego. Maybe Theater Camp doesn’t rise to the brilliance of Waiting for Guffman, but comparison is the thief of joy, and this film is pure joy.

Anna: Putting together a collaborative project like a theater production is all about trusting your troupe and throwing a whole lot of faith and hard work into every exhausting moment of it. This film is essentially about that dynamic—that the kids are counting on the teachers who are counting on Troy to hold it all together. It’s so sweet. I hope this film gets the audience it deserves!

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Glen compiles listings. Comment at [email protected].

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