Play On (2)

From left, Linda Backner Hernandez, Lori Correia, Jasia Mackey, Kimberly Paine, Mike Capalbo, Bob Lively, Matt Moos, and Anita Horne Lawlor in ACT’s production of “Play On!” (submitted)

ATTLEBORO — Attleboro Community Theatre is opening its 61st season with “Play On!,” a hilarious spin on life in community theater.

Directed by longtime ACT member Jeanne Smith, this play within a play not only mystifies but delights audiences with its hysterical moments as the Poppycock Players prepare to present the murder mystery, “Murder Most Foul.”

The play calls for cast members to learn two roles, their offstage character and onstage character, and Smith has gathered the right cast to tackle this task with humorous results.

As the first act opens, a not so enthusiastic cast of “Murder Most Foul” enters on stage to begin rehearsal of the third act. With just four days to opening, the playwright Phyllis Montague, wonderfully played by Kimberly Paine, continuously interferes in the process with rewrites and added pages to the script to the chagrin of the cast and director.

The tension and humor of trying to get through the third act is heightened by distractions from backstage as Louise, the lighting/sound technician, continues to hammer and stage manager Aggie (Lori Correia of Attleboro) tries to keep pace. Correia carries the physical humor as she continually finds herself running from stage left to stage right.

There is sniping between the cast members as they struggle to get into character. Saul is the prankster of the group and is continuously making jokes and throwing barbs. Bob Lively of Attleboro handles this character well and transforms easily into his onstage character, the somewhat sinister Dr. Rex Forbes. He is particularly funny in the final act.

There is also a bit of romance with great chemistry both on and off stage between Billy Carew and Violet Embry (Jasia Mackey of Norton), who portray Stephen Sellers and Diana Lassiter in the mystery. Mike Capalbo of Cumberland plays Billy with aplomb and has a bit of fun with his dashing mystery character as he earns laughter from the audience, thanks to help from costume designers Smith and co-director Megan Ruggiero. He also has a delightfully funny scene in the final act involving a costume mishap and works well with Lively in a bit that involves wigs and aptly thrown lines.

Scene stealers

Of course there is always a scene stealer or two, and in this case it comes in the form of a mother and son. Lauren Sparks of Norton steals a few scenes with her attitude and snarky comments as Louise, who is trying to maintain her anger. Riley Sparks, also of Norton, portrays young actor “Smitty,” who would have you believe he would much rather be studying biology than portray Daniel the Butler. Riley has good comic timing for one so young.

By the second act they are in dress rehearsal, and the actors are still working out costumes and entrances. All the while Gerry, the director, tries to maintain some semblance of order. Anita Horne Lawlor portrays Gerry with just the right amount of patience and sarcasm. Meanwhile playwright Phyllis is still making rewrites and getting in the way, and Paine is hysterical to watch from her mannerisms to her hair and wardrobe.

In the third act, opening night, all mayhem breaks lose. Everything that can go wrong does, and everyone onstage will have the audience in stitches. I would be remiss to not mention Matthew Moos of Wareham and Linda Buckner Hernandez of North Attleboro as husband and wife actors Henry and Polly Bemis. They both carry off their dual roles well. Hernandez is the perfect prima donna as she takes the brunt of Saul’s jokes, and both she and Moos have a good grasp on their alliterative lines.

Though the play may seem to start off slow, it allows the hilarity to take hold, and that leads to a tumultuous round of much-needed laughter and, on opening weekend, a well-deserved standing ovation. Anyone involved in theater will appreciate this raucous farce, and everyone will leave laughing.

Attleboro Community Theatre’s production of “Play On!” continues this weekend and next at the Bates Masonic Lodge, 71 North Main St., Attleboro. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 at the door or $18 at https://squareup.com/market/acttickets. Senior and student tickets are $15 online or at the door. Reserve by calling 508-226-8100 or emailing AttleboroCommunityTheatreACT@gmail.com.

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