This is the hilarious story of a theater group trying desperately to put on a play (Murder Most Foul) in spite of maddening interference from a haughty authoress who keeps revising the script. Act I is a rehearsal of the dreadful show; Act II is the near disastrous dress rehearsal, and the final act is the actual performance in which anything that can go wrong does.
Play On! takes audiences behind the scenes of a local amateur theater company as it prepares a production of Murder Most Foul, an original murder mystery written by a local playwright. Abbot’s side-splitting look at the inner workings of amateur theater unfolds in three acts of cascading goofiness. First at a rehearsal less than a week before the show opens, next during the disaster-plagued dress rehearsal, and finally, the show’s opening night.
Geraldine “Gerry” Dunbar (Whitney Minarik) is the long-suffering director who struggles to breathe life into the original script. Her troupe has their work cut out for them. First, the murder mystery script is not very good. And the set isn’t finished. And the cast is still wobbly on their lines. The good news is that the novice playwright, Phyllis Montague (Nicki Howard), has allowed the company to produce her new play for free. The bad news is that Phyllis keeps changing her script, forcing the cast of amateurs to re-learn their lines over and over again. The biggest mystery of all seems to be whether the company will possibly be able to get this ever-changing production ready in time!
Everyone involved with Murder Most Foul lacks skill and experience, and it shows. As Play On! Opens, the troupe is just four days away opening night. Despite the best efforts of Louise Peary (Jolie LeBell), the company’s omnipresent sound, light and scenic technician, the set is incomplete and technical issues abound. Stage Manager and prompter Aggie Manville (Sarah Myers) has her hands full trying to manage the show’s many sound cues while she stays busy prompting actors who keep forgetting their lines.
The actors, unsurprisingly, are having their own crises and they are pushing their director and crew to the breaking point. The older married couple and amateur theater veterans, Henry Benish/Lord Dudley (Rob Weinstein) and Polly Benish/Lady Margaret (Suzy Krueckeberg), challenge their director at every turn. Some cast members react to the mounting backstage tension by either by hitting the bottle of getting on each other’s nerves. Saul Watson/Dr. Rex Ford (Travis Monroe Neese), the mystery’s villain, has a special dislike for Polly whom he taunts her with snarky personal insults. Polly — a bit of a diva herself — is having none of it and huffs her indignation to everyone within earshot.
Meanwhile, the young ingénues of Murder Most Foul, Billy Carewe/Stephen Sellars (Josh Marshall) and Violet Imbry/Diane Lassiter (Katie O’Neil) are warming to each other in “real life” just as their characters do in the mystery they are rehearsing. They regularly forget to call each other by their scripted character names during rehearsals as their on-stage romance seems increasingly real. Wait… is love blooming right there on stage?
Then of course, there’s Marla “Smitty” Smith (Emrose Seidenberg), the high school student playing Doris the maid. Like everyone else, Smitty worries about keeping her lines and cues straight in the constantly-evolving play, but she has additional concerns that are practical and immediate. Will she ever get tomorrow’s biology homework done? Will her mother be angry if she gets home late because the rehearsal ran over?
Play On! is a fast-paced frolic that has been called “a love letter to amateur theater.” It affectionately pokes fun at the foibles of a lovable group of thespians who struggle valiantly, and hilariously, toward their big opening night. Their energy and enthusiasm crashes up against looming deadlines, warring egos, missed cues, and an ever-changing script… and the results are both heartwarming and hysterical.
Directed by Keith Gerth
Stage Manager Helen O’Brien