Sunday, September 19, 2010

Millbrook: "Play On!"

The Millbrook Community Players, Inc. have announced an ambitious 7-play 2011 Season while producing this year's penultimate production of Rick Abbot's "Play On!".

Directed by Chris Perry, this three-act comedy rings a lot of familiar chords for anyone involved in amateur dramatics. Tracking a second-rate theatre company's doomed production of a cliche-ridden murder mystery penned with daily re-writes by the playwright, the plot goes from a rehearsal to a dress rehearsal to opening night as personalities clash and frustrations mount.

It doesn't paint a pretty picture of community theatre, though much of its content accurately depicts its foibles: actors who can not separate their stage roles from their off-stage lives, some who show up without learning their lines, unfinished props and sets, a mishmash of sound cues, a director more concerned with taking coffee breaks than directing, and tempers flaring at the slightest provocation...certainly the fuel for a lot of laughs, especially of the self-reflective type.

Here are local veteran and neophyte Millbrook actors playing actors who perform roles in a play, challenging them to distinguish one from the other, a task managed pretty well by the company in an ensemble performance. -- The trick here is to play each stereotype with conviction: for example, the ditzy teenaged actress concerned with late-night curfews and looming high school exams plays a maid whose role in Murder Most Foul serves to do little more than set the scene and introduce characters. In the role, Kristi Taylor shows those elements as high school gradually overtakes the other, resulting in ever-increasing volume and pace in the actual performance.

There are additional challenges in this production. First, the accoustics in the Millbrook theatre render speech almost unintelligible during rapid-fire and impassioned exchanges, of which there are a lot in "Play On!".

Second, Abbot has written clear characters and clever stereotypes, and though this company does show them individually, they are played with the same intensity throughout, with everyone at the same loud volume and same fast pace, that much of the play's humor is lost and characterizations get a bit muddled.

Millbrook newcomer Derrick Lovett [playing Saul Watson who plays Doctor Rex Forbes in the play-within-a-play] turns in the most distinct performance. Gifted with a clear voice, supple body, and animated face, Mr. Lovett's mannerisms in both roles are finely tuned to each, and his ability to switch personalities mid-sentence shows an admirably disciplined actor. He is engaged in every moment, and is therefore eminently watchable. Even his riotously funny "extended death sequence in rehearsal" transforms to a more simple one in the "performance".

The Millbrook Community Players keep finding new talent which should come in handy for their December production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and for next year's season.