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  • Young Critic

Theater Camp

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

The loving tribute to theater is a solid directing debut from Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman

Theater holds a special place in many actors’ hearts; it is usually the medium through which many performing artists first experience the thrill of inhabiting a character. It is thus incredibly sweet that the cult-like, but sweet theater community has been given their homage in the mockumentary Theater Camp (2023).

Theater Camp is a mockumentary about the fictional money-strapped theater summer camp in upstate New York called the Adirond Acts. When the camp founder and director Joan (Amy Sedaris) falls into a comma, her inept vlogger son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes the reins and must figure out a way to fix the finances. Meanwhile camp counselors, such as the drama director Amos (Ben Platt) and his best friend the musical director Rebecca Diane (Molly Gordon) decide to stage a musical about the life of Joan to honor her contributions to the camp.

Theater Camp is the directorial debut of Gordon and Nick Lieberman, who also helmed the short film of the same name that originated this feature. Gordon and Lieberman also collaborated on the script with Platt and fellow co-star Noah Galvin. The result is a film clearly infused with the love of the theater community and the passion and wonder of the stage. This core is further shaped with a hilarious script that is wise to move from joke to joke, not overstaying its welcome or dragging gags too long.

For a first time directing and writing group, it is astounding at how concise and tight a film Theater Camp is. Running at just over 1 hr and 30mins, Theater Camp shows the increasing slog of long epics that one doesn’t need to test viewers’ patience to deliver a wholesome and emotional product. There is a sizeable ensemble within Theater Camp, with a mixture of character actors and up-and-coming talent such as the likes of Sedaris, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri, and Caroline Aaron. The short runtime does sideline some of these characters, but it also brings concise and rewarding breakout arcs from others like Galvin as the repressed and talented tech director longing for a shot at the stage.

The focus of Theater Camp, however, is on Amos and Rebecca Diane, who are brilliantly inhabited by Platt and Gordon. Their dynamics, humor, and emotional moments bring Theater Camp to life. However, Platt and Gordon do well to step aside when necessary to showcase an talented ensemble of child performers, who belt out song, dance, and have comedic timings that many mainstream actors could learn from. Whether on the stage or on film, I’ll be excited to see what many of these young actors do in their future.

Gordon and Lieberman deserve much credit in harnessing the talented ensemble, bringing various acting styles, and delivering a consistent comedic tone. The mockumentary style is funny in certain moments, but isn’t used to its full potential. At many points you wonder if a straightforward style would have served Theater Camp better, as the documentary format started getting distracting and constraining. You sense this indecision with many shots that are impossible to have been captured in a documentary format, as the film flits between a straightforward hand-held comedy and its original observational footage.

In the end, Theater Camp is a short and sweet film about the love of performance and the quirkiness of the artistic community. With a talented ensemble and a funny script, Gordon and Lieberman deliver a solid directorial debut. There were kinks, from the uneven use of the mockumentary format to the sidelining of certain characters, however, anyone with an appreciation or history in the performing arts will leave Theater Camp with a smile on their face.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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