The audience at the American Airlines Theatre tomorrow night will have a rare chance to see some of Hollywood’s most famous actors absolutely lose their friggin’ minds. The source of this potential meltdown is the ninth annual “24 Hour Plays,” a series of six 10-minute works in which the actors — including Brooke Shields, Jennifer Aniston, Rosie Perez, Naomi Watts, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and more — don’t get to see their scripts until 12 hours before curtain.
The sold-out show, a charity presentation for the arts-in-schools charity Urban Arts Partnership, will work as follows. Twenty-four actors, six playwrights and six directors will meet at 10 tonight, with each actor bringing a costume and prop of their choosing.
After introductions are made, each playwright — including Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire (“Shrek the Musical,” “Rabbit Hole”) and Tony winner Warren Leight (“Side Man”) — will spend all night writing short plays that must be completed by 7 tomorrow morning. Then actors spend the day memorizing lines, rehearsing and tearing their hair out before performing at 8 p.m. By 10, exactly 24 hours later, it’ll all be over.
Rosie Perez is a veteran of the event, for one reason, and one reason only.
“All the money is going to my charity. Otherwise, I wouldn’t put myself though the torture,” says Perez, who recalls how one famous actor — who she wouldn’t name no matter how hard we begged — lost his nerve.
“He hadn’t done a lot of theater, and he came in going, ‘I’ve done some theater, this is gonna be fun,’ and the real theater actors were going, ‘Umm hmm,’” says Perez. “By the fifth hour, he had a full-blown meltdown — screaming and talking to himself in the hallway. I go, ‘It’s alright, it’s normal. If you throw up, you’ll feel better.’ The actors’ fates will largely depend on their experience at the seat-of-the-pants performance. “SNL” veteran Rachel Dratch has done it six times, calling on her improv background.
“It’s my favorite night, because you have actors from all different areas thrown together, and you don’t know who’s in your cast,” says Dratch, who last year wound up playing a Boy Scout who had to suck snakebite poison from the bitten leg of “Gossip Girl” star Matthew Settle.
For “24 Hour virgin” Emmy Rossum, the thrill is tempered by nerves.
“I’ll probably have cold sweats every night this week,” says Rossum, who’s considering a bedazzler as her prop. “But I have no idea who I’m playing, and that’s what makes it so exciting. I could play a toddler, a psychotic geriatric woman, a psychotic geriatric woman with a bedazzler. Who knows?”
When asked for advice for first-timers, Perez directs them to take the challenge seriously — unlike the cocky jerk who almost lost his mind.
“Respect the process, because it’s a real theater performance,” she says. “Know your lines and character as much as you can, and drop the ego, because you’ll need your fellow actors. We take it seriously.”
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