Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Exit Laughing
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of Five Guys Named Moe

Rachel Brumfield and Diedra Celeste Miranda (back),
and Jori Mosier and Barbara McBain (front)

Photo by Stephanie Cartwright
Stage comedies come in a wide range of styles–rom farces, satires, and black comedies where slapstick, physical comedy, and big punch lines are the focal point, to others that focus on romance or are comedies of manners which are more intellectual and literary in nature. Then there are those that also tug at your heartstrings, like Steel Magnolias. While Paul Elliott's Exit Laughing isn't as successful as Steel Magnolias, it does have several similar elements to that popular play, including a group of middle-aged, female characters from the south and a tragedy they are faced with. Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's production features a good group of actors who do a lovely job balancing the play's heartbreak and humor as their characters share wisecracks and life lessons in the face of hardship.

Set in a Southern town, the plot focuses on Connie, Leona and Millie, a group of close, longtime friends who meet weekly to play cards. But there's a problem: the fourth member of their group, Mary, just passed away. Since Mary was the somewhat dim-witted Millie's bridge partner, and since it was Millie's turn to carpool, she does what any good friend would do and steals the urn containing Mary's ashes from the funeral home so she can attend bridge night with her friends. While the women fear Millie will be arrested for breaking into the funeral home and stealing a "body" the night before it's to be buried, there is also the issue of a policeman who knocks on the door and the dating trauma Connie's daughter is dealing with when she was stood up on a date earlier that night that the women must deal with. As they band together to face these obstacles, they discover that the power of friendship can help you face the difficulties of life while also reminding you to live your life to the fullest.

Under Van Rockwell's assured direction, the cast all do a very good job in portraying a group of friends who have known each other for years. Diedra Celeste Miranda is lovely as the frazzled Connie, who has to deal with a seemingly never-ending stream of problems, from the nonstop drama of her college student daughter Rachel's dating woes to Leona's continual drinking and Millie's foolish remarks and continual confusion, all while also serving as the voice of reason for her friends. Jori Mosier is wonderful as the hard-drinking Leona, a lovable lush but also a woman who doesn't mince words and, as Millie, Barbara McBain is a hoot. McBain gets just about every punchline and delivers them all with ease while also getting big laughs from the audience for her efforts. As Rachel, Rachel Brumfield oozes sexual frustration and college-aged angst, and Van Rockwell is bright and down-to-earth as Bobby, a character that I'm specifically saying as little about as possible so as not to ruin some of the fun surprises in Elliot's script.

Rockwell's staging works very well in the intimate and in-the-round venue so that the action is realistic and that the fairly continual movement doesn't block anyone's view of the characters and situations. While the script takes a while for the elements to click into place, and if you're expecting a farce or laugh out loud comedy you'll be shocked in that it's only mildly amusing for the first 20 minutes or so, the heartwarming and life affirming moments in the second act may find you getting a little choked up as they did for me. Cheryl Schaar's set and prop designs do a fairly good job in creating the living room in Connie's home and the costumes by Teresa Knudson are character appropriate. The lighting design by Rockwell, Don Bluth, and Bret Reese and the sound design by Rockwell and Roger McKay add some nice moments, especially in the upbeat and hilarious scene that ends the first act.

Exit Laughing may not be a perfect comedy but it has several laugh out loud moments and a wonderful life lesson about not letting life pass you by. While Mary has instructed her friends to not sit around but instead to get out and see the world and have fun so they can exit their lives laughing, you'll most likely find yourself not just exiting the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre laughing but also thinking about Mary's words of advice and what you can do to life your life to its fullest.

Exit Laughing runs through October 22, 2022, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information visit or call 480 314-0841.

Directed by Van Rockwell
Assistant Director: Stephanie Cartwright
Scenic & Properties Designer: Cheryl Schaar
Lighting Designer: Don Bluth, Bret Reese and Van Rockwell
Sound Designer: Van Rockwell and Roger McKay
Costume Designer: Teresa Knudson
Choreographers: Kandyce Hughes and Van Rockwell
Stage Manager: Malcolm Hooper

Connie: Diedra Celeste Miranda
Leona: Jori Mosier
Millie: Barbara McBain
Rachel: Rachel Brumfield
Bobby: Van Rockwell