Review: Bad theater is a pretty good time in Danville

For perhaps obvious reasons, theater people love to do plays about theater people. It should be no surprise, then, that Role Players Ensemble’s latest show at Danville’s Village Theatre is “Laughing Stock,” a backstage comedy about a summer stock theater that’s been performing in a barn in New Hampshire for 60-odd years.

The play is by Charles Morey, whose farce “The Ladies Man” Role Players produced in 2015. Morey grew up near Danville and frequented the Village Theatre in his youth. He also was in fact the artistic director of a New Hampshire summer stock barn theater for about a decade.

Role Players artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes plays Gordon Page, the hapless artistic director of the Playhouse. We meet him as he’s auditioning a motley crew of actors to spend the summer in the barn performing three plays in rep: “Hamlet,” “Charley’s Aunt” and Gordon’s own new adaptation of “Dracula.” (Morey himself has also adapted “Dracula” for the stage.) They were originally planning to do “King Lear,” but the disapproval of their one major donor causes a late-breaking change after they’ve already done most of the casting.

Hayes’ Gordon is out of his depth, unrealistically ambitious about the roles he takes on and the elaborate technical demands he expects but leaves to others to figure out. At the same time he’s plagued with insecurity and guilt about possibly leading this unassuming but venerable theater into ruin.

Among the actors, Jack (forthright and agreeable Chris Marsol), shows promise but is wary of the whole operation, and is getting discouraged about theater in general. Disdainful industry veteran Vernon (brusque and impatient Edward Nattenburg) acts like everything is a huge waste of his valuable time, including the audition. A Playhouse mainstay from the early days who’s pre-promised plum parts, Richfield (amiable, mannered John Blytt) has a head too full of colorful reminiscences to remember his lines.

Young Mary (amusingly blithe Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer) has a conspicuous tendency to interpret every character she plays as “offering herself” to her scene partner. That makes her especially popular with costar Tyler (aggressively overzealous Nathaniel Andalis), who embodies every actorly excess, insisting on adding a lot of intrusive “morphing” to his performance as Dracula.

Still, it’s one of the quietest characters that proves the most outrageous. A self-styled visionary director fresh out of grad school that the big donor insisted Gordon hire, Susannah (Liz Frederick, with a curiously hypnotic stare) is always watching but rarely speaks, off in her own world of unreadable observation. She’s so saturated with theory that she doesn’t think the play matters at all: “What matters is what you do to them.” Her big ideas of how to turn the classic farce “Charley’s Aunt” into a torturous exploration of gender identity are so over-the-top that it’s like watching the most gruesome scene of a horror movie; it almost hurts to watch. And just as strangely, having done that she fades back into the background for the whole second act.

But then there are too many characters and subplots for

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

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