Anyone who has ever trod the boards knows what a labor of love it is to put on a play. For those who have produced one, pulling the necessary people with vision and design expertise to take a play from the printed page to full, pulsing life, well that is a different set of skills. Chatham Community Players brings back a darling of 1980s community theatre, Rick Abbot’s “Play On!” John A.C. Kennedy once again flexes his ability to bring everything wonderful to bear on a play with a twisted appeal for everyone, from Actors to Audience, Producers to Press, Tech, and Stage Managers, into one gnarly, fabulously unruly package. This is a night you won’t forget, and for many reasons.
When the lights come up, we are at the performance space of The Bluestocking Players, a local community theatre in the throes of rehearsal. Gerry Dunbar (Aaron Kellner) is doing his best to make order out of chaos a mere three days before the world premiere of Phyllis Montague’s (Julie Anne Nolan) first play. Phyllis has a way of making an entrance, and entrancing you while she’s in the middle of whatever you need to do. One of the ways we know it is her first play is that it has undergone a number of rewrites: many rewrites. Polly Benish (Lauri MacMillan) and husband Henry Benish (Jim Clancy) are the Dudleys, the Lord and Lady of the manor in a wee mystery called “Murder Most Foul.” The Benish family has encouraged embellishment of Polly’s role with “advise” they give Phyllis when inviting her to supper. Saul Watson (Chip Prestera) is Dr. Rex Forbes, whom we come to understand is the villain of the play, though he’s also a bit of a villain to himself and others. Saul considers himself a wit, though the rest of the jury is still out on that. Long suffering stage crew includes stage manager Aggie Manville (Jessica Phelan), who is trying to herd cats long with Gerry, and Louise Peary (Roseann Ruggiero), who is determined to be the monkey wrench in the works. She’s got a bit of mischief in her that makes this a small but mighty role. High schooler “Smitty” (Rachel Gesner) is the Doris, the Dudleys’ house maid, and it is clearly Smitty’s first role. Working with young people is always a joy, and Smitty does her best to make wise use of her time, studying when she can. This is key in hilarious Act Three. The romantic leads are Violet Imbry (Ali Archetti), as socialite Diana Lassiter, and Billy Carew (Shane Long), as Stephen Sellers, a millionaire and amateur detective. Taking her cue from Agatha Christie, Phyllis has jewels, villainy, poison, romance, intrigue, and more change than a subway turnstile in store for this cast. And with the verbal sparring, sight gags, and in-jokes, you may find it hard to control your face as unbidden barking laughter comes forth from your lips. Go ahead, laugh out loud – it feeds the energy of “Play On!”
It’s fun to see Kennedy’s sense of wicked glee filtered through this cast like light through stained glass windows. And what a cast! MacMillan and Prestera are so sharp as Polly and Saul that you bleed before you feel the blade—their frictive sparks as theatre adversaries has echoes of Albee’s George and Martha. Yet Saul has demons of his own. Clancy as Henry does his best to protect Polly, but a husband can only do so much. Violet is hot for Billy, but Billy’s got his eyes on—ahem—a different prize. And when Aggie and Phyllis find out how much they’re alike, and the ways that they’re different, that is something you absolutely MUST see. Smitty is doing her best in her very first role, with brisk practicality and a heaping helping of teenaged angst. Yet when Louise makes her presence known, some of the best moments are when she comes perilously close to stealing the scene.
Steven Ruskin’s versatile scene design uses every bit of the space and Ed Whitman’s lights limn the moments. Christine Kirk and Ki Movsovich’ costumes sre delightful, especially Violet and Polly’s dresses in the second act. Kate Pierce and Tish Lum had their work cut out for them with props and set décor and they nailed it! Joe DeVico and Julia Lin’s sound design sets the scene. You owe it to yourself to see what a real community theatre does with a true actors’ and director’s nightmare. I laughed so hard and so often that at times I could not control my face. This works on EVERY level! Get your tickets for the final performances NOW!
For tickets and more information, go to Chatham Community Players’ website at www.ChathamPlayers.org
. You only have until March 9, so get your tickets NOW!