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‘Play On!’ shows theater at its worst on Huntington Playhouse stage

Don’t be misled by the headline. “Play On” is a perfectly enjoyable production currently on stage at Huntington Playhouse. The subject matter of the play is the often hilarious backstage antics that lead to the opening of a community theater production. Make sense? No matter. Let’s talk about the play.

“Play On!” is set at an unnamed community theater. It really could be anyplace. The performers are presenting the world premiere of a show written by a local playwright. Members of the Huntington cast play someone from “real life” in the show. Most of them are cast members in the play-within-the play called “Murder Most Foul.”

Theater people have always thought that their lives and work are of great interest to “lay” people. To some extent, this is true. For the last century, plays and movies with backstage themes have been constant. “Play On!” is one of the better examples of this. Written by Rick Abbot nearly a half-century ago, it still resonates today. The Huntington production is directed by Dan Sekanick.

Huntington actress Susan Wagner portrays play director Geraldine Dunbar as impatient, frazzled and caustic. This is an understandable situation, given that the local playwright has been constantly rewriting the script, including all elements of the plot. The first act of “Play On!” takes place at a rehearsal. The cast has never rehearsed the third act of “Murder Most Foul” because of the rewrites. Pam Matthews presents playwright Phyllis Montague as an elderly garden club lady. Eternally cheerful, she is unaware of how she torments the cast with her rewrites.The second act is a dress rehearsal of the show. We see the third act a second time This time with most of the props and a set that has finally been completed.  Script changes continue. The name of a stolen jewel has been changed so many times that no one can remember which name is the correct one.

Kathy Whitmore is Polly Benish, an actress who has the largest role in the play. The fact that she is best friends with the playwright explains this astonishing coincidence. Whitmore is a good sport, Benish a bad sport, due to jokes that are made about her own size. Mike Kunikis as Saul Watson is her main tormentor in this regard. Neil Donnelly plays Polly’s supportive husband, Henry.

Also in the cast are Bryan Heard and Marybeth Morris as the young couple in love. The chemistry and the comedy between them is perfection. He can’t remember his lines, and she does not know what hers mean. Kalina Jones is the stage manager, Aggie, and Michael Strama the stagehand Louis.

The Huntington audience would like to see “Murder Most Foul” in production, and they get their chance. The last part of the show is the third act seen a final time. Props and furniture are on stage for the first time, and of course, nothing goes as it should, which is what one would expect.

Huntington’s cast and director have probably all experienced some of the things that are shown in “Play On!” If all of them were present at the same show, the production would explode. The show is successful because it is rooted in reality. Every community theater has some cast members who are not “team players,” technicians who work insane hours without sleep and actors who think they know more than the playwright.

“Play On!” is a fast-moving 90 minutes long. It is a good choice for Huntington Playhouse and a good choice for a fun evening of theater in the summer. It runs weekends through Sunday at the playhouse, located in Bay Village.

 

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