Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Out performing

A man and woman sit down at a table and begin to discuss themselves as if they are characters in a play. We assume that they must be actors preparing to rehearse a scene, but we are only half-right.

The latest short flick to come in over the virtual transom is called Total Performance. Filmed in Boston, it is written and directed by Sean Meehan, a veteran maker of short films for the past half-decade or so.

It turns out that only one of our characters in that first scene is an actor. In addition to chasing proper acting gigs, Cori works for a company that provides a rather special service. For a fee she will sit down with someone facing an upcoming difficult personal situation (e.g. a romantic breakup, firing an employee) and role play with them as a way to prepare. Not only is it a source of income for her, but it also provides opportunities to stretch her acting muscles. As she explains to one client, she is basically “a sparring dummy.”

We learn about this unusual business as Cori discusses it with Tim on their first date. He is our stand-in, as he asks her all the questions we would like to. A key one is, does she ever get emotionally involved in her client’s situation. Because, of course, it is pretty much inevitable that her job and her personal life at some point will intersect.

The craftsmanship here is all top-notch. It has the polished look of a commercial movie or TV show. In the central role of Cori, Tory Berner not only radiates the poise and confidence of a veteran of many auditions and roles, she convincingly emodies her characters with that poise and confidence. (Side note: she is a niece of actor Chris O’Donnell.) Her date Tim is played by Steven Conroy, whose previous appearances include numerous short films and the web series The Key of Awesome.

In the course of its 17-minute running time, Total Performance keeps us guessing. It’s the sort of premise that could well be leading us to a comedic payoff or, alternatively, could all too easily turn quite dark. To the film’s credit it keeps maintains that dramatic tension right up to the conclusion. And, while the ending is a little bit ambiguous, at least one thing seems very clear. Cori will have gained a crucial insight, which is that no actor worth her salt can ever be completely detached from her role.

Hat tip to Timothy J. Cox, the actor who does a nice job playing a particularly anxious client named Walter, for sending this little gem my way.

-S.L., 1 December 2015

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