The play opens quietly as the weary director, Gordon Page (a wonderfully well-cast Scott Bing), shows the barn to a young actor, Jack Morris (an earnest Atom Gorelick), who is trying his hand at acting during the summer before heading off to law school. Gordon begins to weave his romantic vision of the theater amid the dusty and humid setting of the barn before it gets transformed into the playhouse. The company's 67th year is about to begin.
The play follows the group through one calamity after another as Gordon pushes his rag-tag troupe through rehearsal and production of Charlie's Aunt, Hamlet, and a new adaption of Dracula, written by Page himself to avoid royalties. The action builds slowly as Gordon and his new assistant director Susannah (Olivia Kashetta) move through casting on a New York trip. Gordon has taken on the bizarrely twisted Susannah because she is the college roommate of the daughter of the theater's biggestand onlycontributor.
During rehearsals we meet the colorful actors, most of whom are returning to the troupe. This group comes in many flavors. Mary (a terrifically funny Bridget S. Dunne) is an ingénue who loves the theater, though she's an overacting mess. Tyler Taylor (Chris Molony) is the handsome and self-absorbed womanizing leading manperfect for the role of Count Dracula.
We meet the bitter Vernon Volker (a full-energy Steven Suttle) who has spent 30 years acting and not getting anywhere. He skips the audition in disgust but gets hired anyway. In comes Richfield Hawksley (spot-on by Timothy Kupjack) who's gone dingy in the head, and Daisy Coates (Ninette Mordaunt). Richfield and Daisy have been with the company since it opened.
The fun builds slowly. The auditions are amusing, up a notch in pace from the quiet opening. The production catches fire during the first performance of Draculapronounced Dra-cool. Everything goes Three-Stooges wrong. Props are missing, Richfield can't remember character nameswhile forgetting most of his script. This scene is the heart of the play. The opening night play-gone-nightmare-wrong is one giant laugh after another. Yet somehow the ragamuffin troupe delivers. Dunne as Mary steals every scene.
The slapstick morphs into sweetness as the play winds down with the closing night performance of Hamlet (which was substituted for King Lear because the ditsy old lady benefactor decided Lear was "too depressing"). While the pace of the Hamlet scene is quieter, it's still charming.
In the end, we get the happy ending befitting summer-stock farea sentimental farewell till next year. The wild bunch of not-quite-almost-good actors have gelled in their own dysfunctional way, and an awkward backstage romance is headed toward wedding vows. The beleaguered and ever-more-weary Gordon announces the company has made a profit for its summer efforts, just over $100. Our young protégé, Jack, has reconsidered a law career after his sweet season in the barn.
The production is smartly directed by Adeo Breaux. The staging is excellent, particularly during the tricky calamity Dracula scene. Hats off to stage manager Ashley McGinley and set design co-directors John van der Meer and Matthew van Wettering. Others who have contributed include Eli Browning, producer, Teddy Eggleston, costumes, Linda Sklov, properties, Kristin Elliott, sound design, and Katie Breaux, stagehand.
Laughing Stock, by Charles Morey, at the Aux Dog Theatre, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd. NE, through August 14. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $16. Discounts tickets of $12 are available for students, seniors (65 and up), ATG members, those in rescue services (fire, police, medical) and those in the U.S. Armed Forces. For reservations, call 505-254-7716, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.auxdog.com.
-- Rob Spiegel