In this farce, an amateur troupe rehearses a mystery drama as temperamental, ill-prepared actors clash with their director, and with the authoress, who enters with last-minute rewrites, and, yes, hilarity does ensue.
Can it be satire if it's all too true? If not satire, then broad amusement and audience delight as all-too-familiar incidents abound. Actors insult and bristle, props don't arrive but rewrites do, cues are missed, sound effects are absent, and overacting rises to the point of thrilling absurdity. Yes, we have seen it all, and in the not-too-distant past, but I especially enjoyed an unspoken joke, as actors marched across the stage to take up new positions without a shred of motivation for their parade.
Director Laura Schlecht and assistant director Nicholas Garelick seem to have given the actors their head, and the result works wonderfully. John Lazo plays a WASPish actor quick to offend with criticism of others, and lards the role with melodramatic readings, as though in an 1850s moustache-twirling potboiler, and the result is quite interesting and a wonder to behold -- he comes close to stealing the show. Amanda L. Baird plays the ingenue, and she has elected to communicate through the broadest of gestures, arms flailing like a windmill. Let me hasten to add that the actors are in on the joke -- these overreachings are deliberately calculated to amuse, and indeed they do.
Ryan Rasmussen plays the young man, using an exaggerated style for humor, but remaining within the parameters of a plausible performance (alliteration is a prime plot pivot), and achieves precisely a perfect pratfall that hurls him across the room like a tennis ball. Victoria Harkrider plays the feisty tech gal and Jessica Brogan the put-upon stage manager, and both are interesting and effective. Carolyn Montgomery and Gene Griesbach play older actors, and convey clearly that they have been in better productions. Michelle James plays an actor being kept up long past her curfew, and Sudeane Holmes plays the playwright, unaware that a murder occurs in her play titled Murder Most Foul.
Act I is a rehearsal, Act II is dress rehearsal and Act III is the performance itself, and there are enough deliberately flubbed lines and missing props to make a sequel. Susan Bray plays the director of the murder mystery, with vocal power and sudden departures from the stage to get herself more coffee, and seems to be more part of the lunacy than an aggrieved overseer, but this is what playwright Rick Abbott seems to have intended. Rick Abbott has written a resourceful, inventive comedy with a number of surprises, and even the ones we know are coming lose nothing in impact when they arrive. I mention the playwright's name twice, since it seems to have been left out of the program, either through nature imitating art, or as an homage to the pervasive spirit of fun.
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The general result onstage is mayhem of the highest comic order, and it is delightful to watch, and savor, as we recognize the perils and pratfalls of live theater. And while the theater is on a street named "Way Out West," it actually is only ten minutes outside the Loop, convenient indeed.
This lighthearted comedy works on all cylinders, with enthusiastic actors and an entertaining script, so it can be strongly recommended for all ages as the perfect date event, suitable for children and a must-see for dedicated theatergoers.
Play On! continues through March 24, at Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive. For information or ticketing, call 713-682-3525 or visit www.theatresuburbia.org.