Updated: Apr 5, 2022
In 'PLAY ON!' Comedy is Very Serious Business!
"Murder Most Foul" may be one of the worst productions ever written…
Fortunately, it's supposed to be that way.
The British mystery is a play-within-a-play and the focus of "Play On!"—a gag-filled farce by Rick Abbott who fashions his play around the often slapstick backstage happenings of a plucky community theatre group. The end result is something akin to “Noises Off,” the iconic British farce.
Oh, so never heard of Rick Abbott? Well, that’s probably because “Play On!’s" author, Rick Abbot, is just one of several pen names for demiurgic playwright Jack Sharkey. Sharkey was never produced on Broadway where playwrights usually gain their stardom, sad to say, because he wrote virtually all his plays for community theater. In fact, at one time he had the honor of being the most produced playwright in Southern California.
Sharkey died in 1992, but he was exceedingly prolific. A licensing representative of the Samuel French Co. estimates that he has between 80 to 100 titles in their catalog, written and credited under his own name as well as other pseudonyms: “Rick Abbott” (this one included), “Mike Johnson” (only stage thrillers), and “Monk Ferris” and “Mark Chandler” (comedies and musicals).
“Play On!” is actually one of Abbott’s most popular productions. And I must say, these are the times when I really enjoy my work. I don’t believe I’ve seen a funnier play than this zany love letter to community theatre offered up at Camino Real Playhouse this past Friday evening, their fifth production in their 32nd season, now performing for one more weekend through April 10th.
The play is directed by the award-winning Stephen Gomer (1st Place Festival Winner: “ShowOff! 2022: Short Subject: The Salesman”), returning to Camino Real Playhouse after a seven-year absence, and whose main forte is comedy such as this. This metadrama begins quite normally. Actors meet for their scheduled rehearsal date at the theater, and for a few minutes at least, you’re thinking easy-peasy. But that’s when the fun begins.
The show opens with stage manager Aggie Manville (Hillary Pearson; Tri-School’s Executive Artistic Director) and Gerry Dunbar (Holly Jones; “Night Watch”), the show’s director, discussing an incomplete set only a few days before opening night. Ms. Pearson plays her part of the forgetful and somewhat pessimistic stage manager flawlessly as she often finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ms. Jones’ Gerry is the quintessential community theater director who is exasperated, worried, and annoyed all at the same time by the lack of “professionalism” in amateur theater. There are times she completely loses it.
Enter multi-tasker Louise Peary, the group’s only technician, portrayed by Christine Alfano (“ShowOff! 2022: ESP”), who is unconventionally attempting to handle sound, lights, and scenic design all at the same time. But even with the help of the stage manager and director, it seems as though the production is doomed!
As we soon find out, Gerry thought producing the play was a good idea since an inexperienced playwright had agreed to let the company perform the show at no charge. Gerry is valiantly attempting to get the production ready for opening night, however, she had no idea what disasters await her. This “murder mystery” plot doesn’t even have a murder in it, and on top of that, the off-beat obnoxious playwright of "Murder Most Foul" (no relation to the Agatha Christie novel) wants to make drastic changes to her ridiculous script with only four days left before opening night. Suddenly, everyone is at one another's throat and madness unreels on stage.
When the feisty playwright shows up with her various revisions once again, the actors inform her they have not been able to memorize yet the previous changes only days earlier, and become quite over-stressed. Every glitch imaginable occurs from threats of leaving the show to mix-ups in stage settings and sound effects. All the actors have very convincing performances, shifting back and forth within their characters seamlessly, though certain characters and scenes considerably stand out. In their best comic moments, they seem like deer caught in the head lights.
Looming in front of the pack is Phyllis Montague, the alliteration-loving playwright, played by Georgina “Gina” Treasure, who you may have seen last as Mrs. Bradman in “Blithe Spirit.” Gaudily made-up with a haughty, overbearing manner, her uproariously eccentric attempts to micro-manage the play require Gerry and Aggie to forcibly escort the playwright off stage a number of times.
Bear with me, this might get a little confusing. In the murder mystery, Rebecca Rubino’s (“Into the Woods”) Violet assumes the role of ingenue Diana, the young maiden torn between an older scientist, played by Jon Korbonski’s (“ShowOff! 2022: Lovers Leap”) Saul Watson as Dr. Rex Forbes, and Brandon Delgado’s (“Play it Again, Sam”) Billy Carewe playing Stephen Sellers. Dr. Forbes had a sarcastic touch that added to personality conflicts and some well-timed verbal barbs with others, particularly with Polly’s Lady Margaret. And Mr. Delgado also gets good mileage from his character, Billy, a handsome young dimwit who, in his own words, knows his lines, "but just doesn't know when to say them."
We also meet Henry Benish (aka Lord Dudley), a mild-tempered, patient, yet confused mature gentleman, played by Richard Treasure (“Blithe Spirit”), who is also married to leading lady, Polly Benish (aka Lady Margaret), a self-aggrandizing egotist who can never remember her lines, played by Wendy Carp Gallo (“Night Watch”). Henry strikes a perfect note playing opposite his peckish “wife” in the ill-fated mystery, subtly playing his character as perhaps the only impressible actor in the troupe easily affected, so when things go wrong, he is one person you really care about.
Mix them all with a pretty teen actress with a gaslighting mother, who’s studying for her Biology test during breaks— the occasionally bombastic Marla "Smitty" Smith (aka Doris the maid), played by Abigail Cox (“The Rocky Horror Show”), and you get an over-the-top show that you will be smiling about for days.
WITH: HILLARY PEARSON as Aggie Manville; HOLLY JONES as Geraldine “Gerry” Dunbar; RICHARD TREASURE as Henry Benish (Lord Dudley); WENDY CARP GALLO as Polly Benish (Lady Margaret); ABIGAIL COX as Maria “Smitty” Smith (Doris The Maid); JON KORBONSKI as Saul Watson (Dr. Rex Forbes); BRANDON DELGADO as Billy Carewe (Stephen Sellers); REBECCA RUBINO as Violet Imbry (Diana Lassiter); CHRISTINE ALFANO as Louise Peary; GEORGINA (GINA) TREASURE as Phyllis Montague.
“PLAY ON!” by Rick Abbott, now playing March 25th through April 10th at CAMINO REAL PLAYHOUSE; Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM, Sundays at 2PM; Directed by STEPHEN GOMER; Artistic Director LESLIE EISNER; Stage Manager SHARON KEENER; Lighting & Sound Designer/Technical Director ROGER WOODCOCK; Costume Designer BRIGITTE HARPER; Scenic Artist CHRIS CAPUTO. For tickets, new upcoming season announcements, and further information, visit: https://caminorealplayhouse.org/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report