Review: Backstage Antics and Humorous Situations in PLAY ON! Will Seem Familiar to Anyone Involved in Amateur Theater Productions
Anyone who has ever been involved in a volunteer theatrical production will certainly understand the craziness associated with amateurs attempting to put on a play due to both their lack of acting experience, taking direction, or the maddening interference from its meddling playwright who drops in at every rehearsal with newly revised and/or added scenes which contradict what they have already been rehearsing. Such is the case in Rick Abbot's comedy PLAY ON! which is currently being presented at Theatre Palisades as the second show of its 2018 season, directed by Sherry Coon and produced for the community theater group by Martha Hunter and Sue Hardie.
PLAY ON! is written in three acts, the first representing a rehearsal taking place three days before the opening night of Murder Most Foul by novice, alliteration-loving playwright Phyllis Montague (Cindy Pearl), but the biggest mystery is whether the cast can make it through even one rehearsal since she insists on continuously rewriting the script and its plot. Of course, this not only the challenges the actors but especially frustrates the play's director Geraldine "Gerry" Dunbar, portrayed to perfection by Catherine Rahm, herself an experienced director at several local community theaters.
Rahm certainly knows exactly how to temper her anger until the most appropriate moment when her nerves are pulled to the very edge of tolerance before unleashing her wrath at not only the playwright, but also at her inexperienced stage manager Aggie (Ria Parody Erlich, the oldest member of the cast who has to run around the stage the most during the show) who can't seem to remember exactly where she needs to be in order to hand off the most important prop to an actor from within the stage safe (which unfortunately has no bottom shelf), and the sound and light technician Louise (Sue Hardie, who handles a hammer and sashays around wearing a fully-loaded tool belt as if she has been doing that her entire life), who keeps missing sound cues.
During the final dress rehearsal in Act 2, the playwright visits and just happens to erase the entire sound effects tape backstage, forcing poor Louise to leave and stay up all night to get it just right again - with a perfectly timed addition at the end of Opening Night during the third act, which I am not going to reveal
But of course, her troupe of actors also lead Gerry to the breaking point, both those with more experience in stage acting and productions (older married couple Henry and Polly Benish (Michael Bernstein and Marina Tidwell) who challenge her direction at every turn, or the inexperienced for whom even the slightest reality in character representation eludes them.
Perhaps the most annoying among them is Saul Watson (Richard Conolly) who portrays leading man Dr. Rex Forbes who spends most of time making fun of the "robust" build of poor Polly. In fact, I would not blame her if she eventually walked over and bitch slapped Saul after one of his more hurtful comments! But soon the entire cast, even Gerry and Louise, are making fun of Polly the same way, but not to her face as Saul does.
The other Murder Most Foul actors are the younger romantic leads Billy and Violet (Robert Watson and Lauren Chapman) who keep forgetting to call their characters by their scripted names Stephen and Diana. Each time they refer to each other by their real names, it seems to lead them into really kissing each other as themselves rather than their characters, challenging their much-lacking acting abilities even more. Chapman displays a constant character pose that eventually becomes much too overused each time she has a line, as she insists on pointing a toe and lifting her hands above her head. I think the comedy of that movement would be better saved for the third act, taking place on opening night, when other actors forget their lines and Violet attempts to cover their mistakes with her own overacting as she delivers lines that further complicate matters. It's just too bad we cannot witness the craziness going on backstage too!
Lastly is the high school, biology-studying student Smitty who portrays Doris the Maid in Murder Most Foul. Smitty's most important concern seems to be making sure she can leave when her mother arrives to take her home since rehearsals take place on school nights. This, and her overwhelming butterflies on opening night, lead Smitty to deliver her lines in the fastest and least-understandable way, shocking the other actors as well as generating loads of laughs from the audience. This role is shared by Keely O'Sullivan and Bella Dixon.
The combination of so many mishaps and missteps on its opening night in Act 3 leads Murder Most Foul into taking on the more hysterical aspects of a farce. But Sherry Coon's static direction, which has actors line up when delivering their lines more often than not, lacks the needed physical movement to be truly called a farce. But Rick Abbott's brilliant dialogue allows the audience to laugh right along with the actors as things continue to fall apart. Tech credits are highlighted by Sherman Wayne?'s set and lighting design, Susan Stangl?'s sound design, and costumes designed by June Lissandrello.
PLAY ON! continues through Sunday, May 13, 2018 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd., Pacific Palisades 90272. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and students. Please contact the Box Office to make your reservations, (310) 454-1970 or at www.theatrepalisades.org. Free onsite and street parking.
Photo credit: Joy Daunis