(Above: Left to right, Inga R. Wilson, Tom Wilson, and Andrew Beck make up the cast of OCT’s The Understudy)

By Rachael Carnes

The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, is the funniest show I have seen in Eugene in a long, long time.

We’re a little late in the run, so you probably know the set-up already, but just in case: Imagine a not-too-distant future where serious New York theatre has been displaced by Disney. Oh, wait — That’s already happened.

So, we’re in New York City, backstage at a Broadway theatre, the ghost light’s on — it’s a theatre thing — and we’re dropping in on the first rehearsal for the new understudy, Harry (Tom Wilson), so that Harry can learn all the blocking and choreography, in case of the extremely remote possibility that Harry will have to fill in for the big Hollywood action star, Jake (Andrew Beck), who’s currently attached to this recently-rediscovered three-hour Kafka play. Holding everything down, or trying to, is the stalwart stage manager, Roxanne (Inga R. Wilson), who does the very best she can, with what, and whom, she has to work.

I think that covers it, or at least gets us started.

Director Jon Schmor clearly delights in the show’s farcical possibilities, capitalizing on the script’s inherent zaniness and exploiting every last bit of business for its comical punch. Even a sleepy Sunday audience pinked up quickly, as chortles built to guffaws and actual belly laughs.

As Harry, Tom Wilson’s pitch-perfect blend of self-deprecation and sarcasm, his physical choices, hilarious gestures, facial expressions and running commentary are a joy to behold. We love to be in on the joke. Harry is a hero, and we are all Harry.

As Jake, Andrew Beck is immediately unlikable, and that’s the point. It’s just delicious to watch this character’s ego deflate, as his vulnerabilities — and even openness — come to the fore.

With equal measures of being in control and utterly panicked with the immeasurably taxing job she must do, Inga Wilson’s Roxanne takes a 360-degree attack on the stage, helping us to feel as if we are not only familiar with her concerns, with her stage, with her show, but darn it, we want people to stop messing with the props, too!

Wilson is just so entertaining. No line is ever wasted. Even a passive-aggressive squeak, uttered under her breath, lands like a thousand slings and arrows. Scenic design by Jeffrey Cook delivers the weather-beaten exhale of a sturdy old New York building. Clever build-outs add pastiche flair.

This is a play about theater with a play within the play (my favorite), and it seems like the design team had a field day throwing everything in their arsenal at their “Broadway” show. Ryan Rusby’s sound design and Michael A. Peterson’s lighting play with boundless goofiness, and in Schmor’s directorial hands, the lighting and sound add to the comic timing.

Costumes by Heather Kidd and props by Kat Matthews move us along. Jake never loses that down vest, even though it’s not cold…

But if the winter doldrums have you in a Kafkaesque fog, enjoy a sunny 90-minute escape with this season’s biggest laughs.

The Understudy continues at OCT

When: 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31, Feb. 1-2 and 8-9; and a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb 3

Where: Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 W. Broadway, Eugene

Tickets: $20 to $40 (discounts for students with current ID); available at the OCT box office, 541-465-1506, or online at octheatre.org