|Jayne Furlong, Gary Romans, and Pat Romans.|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
As authors of a show recently performed by a local community theater, we are perhaps hypersensitive to a script that mocks royalty-free new plays by amateur playwrights. Thus our senses were quivering, ready to take offense at Mask & Mirror’s production of Play On, which dares to denigrate the delightful drama spewed from novice pens. However, our nascent ire died a-borning – this production is really funny, and we were too busy laughing along with the rest of the opening night audience to worry about our delicate artistic sensibilities.
|Sarah Thornton, Pat Romans, Gary Romans, |
Nick Hamilton, and Jacob Clayton.
Nick Abbott’s broad satire tells the story of a small, marginally talented community theater group that is frantically preparing for the opening night of “Murder Most Foul,” a genuinely awful play-within-a-play that just keeps getting worse with every re-write by hare-brained author Phyllis Montague (Phyllis Lang). The cast members (when in character for “Murder…”) are just as awful as their material – ham-fisted thespians with a mind-numbing flair for over-the-top melodrama who are nowhere near off-book three nights before opening. Banishing the author from the theater does no good – she keeps reappearing and is unable to understand why adding new scenes, dialogue changes, and characters this late in the game might be problematic for director, cast, and crew. Add several doses of contempt, lust, and jealousy among the actors, a determined but weak-willed director, and a thoroughly disaffected crew and the stage is set for a disastrous opening night ‘s performance.
Anyone can be a bad actor, but it takes a really good actor to act like a bad actor. Director Harry McClane has gone above and beyond the call of duty, presenting his audience with a cast so uniformly talented that they can be really, really bad. The competition for “worst actor” award is fierce – is it Sarah Thornton (as Violet Imbry, playing ingénue “Diana Lassiter”) who seems unable to grasp the difference in meaning between different pronunciations of “content” and who frequently refers to a co-star by his real name, rather than the name of his character? Is it Pat Romans (as Polly Benish, playing the larger than life “Lady Margaret”) who displays all the subtlety of Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont? Our trophy goes to Jayne Furlong, (as parochial schoolgirl Smitty Smith, playing “Doris the Maid”). Not only is Smitty convincingly distracted in mid-rehearsal by her upcoming biology exam, but she hurls herself into the “Doris” role with unbridled fluidity and the huge gestures and piercing tones of a true novice.
Of course, all of this is in the service of comedy, and the cast serves up a constant flow of laughs. Often we did not know where to look, as all of the cast members are constantly in character (or, to be more precise, in one of their characters). Jayne Ruppert (as stage manager “Aggie Manville”) is a master the art of deadpan delivery that clearly conveys her unwavering cynicism and utter contempt for cast, director, and author. Gary Romans’ wide-eyed, oft-lascivious portrayal of Henry Benish as “Lord Dudley” is a perfect complement to Pat Romans, his wife in real life, the play, and the play-within-the-play. Nick Hamilton (as Saul Watson, playing villain “Doctor Rex Forbes”) is calm and confident; his “Saul” never allows the chaos around him to interfere with his constant and vicious digs at Polly (except when he gets quite convincingly and understandably drunk on opening night). We denied Sarah Thornton ”worst actress” accolades, but she gets many of the evening’s biggest laughs with her vacuous delivery – apparently, “Violet” has been cast for beauty, not brains, and it shows!
Nick Hamilton’s set design is perfectly suited to the play’s tone – three different kinds of wallpaper in one room, a safe with no back, and a host of other small touches appropriate to a stereotypically tacky community theater setting. Needless to say, sound and lighting cleverly live down to the rest of the production, and the sight of Play On’s real-life producer Sarah Ominski raising and lowering the makeshift curtain is an added bonus. “Murder Most Foul” may be a terrible show, but Play On is top-notch community theater and a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a few hours.
Mask & Mirror’s Play On runs through Sunday, November 23d at Calvin Church’s “The Stage”, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.