On the heels of barely fading laughter from a wildly funny spring production, Laurel Mill Playhouse seems to have found its summer sweet spot in its current reprisal of the farcical “Laughing Stock” by American playwright Charles Morey.
Morey has penned more than a dozen plays, including adaptations of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “The Three Musketeers” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
“Laughing Stock” premiered at Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Theatre Company in 2001 and has been performed across the U.S. and Canada in regional theaters, schools, and community and summer theaters since. Laurel Mill Playhouse mounted a production in 2009.
It is currently playing in repertory in Russian translation in Moscow and four other Russian cities.
Produced here by Maureen Rogers and directed by first-time Playhouse director Daniel Johnston, the comedy unfurls at a struggling New England summer theater performing in a 200-year old barn.
Staged on a simplistic set designed by stage manager Kelli Jones and others, the story begins during winter at an audition, as artistic director Gordon Page (played by Rob Allen) stumbles in the dark trying to turn on the power. When the lights rise on the barn’s interior, it treveals “The Playhouse” painted on an upstage wall flat alongside the cast of characters’ handprints.
Gordon fills in a young actor, Jack Morris (and the audience), about the theater’s 67-year history. “The cows walked out and the actors walked in,” he quips.
Chasing dreams bigger than the theater’s budget; Gordon has adapted versions of “Dracula,” “Charley’s Aunt” and “King Lear” to perform in repertory.
Enter a delightfully eccentric cast as the show skips to rehearsals, and the mayhem takes off. In one silly scene in Act 1, the thespians “explore” their characters by improvising that they’re animals at an African water hole led by Kathryn Hamilton as Susannah.
Excepting Gordon and Sarah (Joelle Denise), the cast is written to be stereotypical stock characters, but the troupe finds depth and passion in Morey’s inside gags and musings about theater life.
As Gordon, Allen thunders on stage and creates very nice chemistry with Denise, who is excellent as Gordon’s soft-hearted ex-wife Sarah, and with the other actors.
Brandon Seehoffer delivers a grounded performance as Jack, a promising young actor who plans to forgo acting and attend law school at the end of the season.
In contrast, Hamilton is wonderfully wacky as Susannah, the newbie director whose thesis at Yale involved performing Noel Coward in a swimming pool with puppets.
Devin King is also very funny as Craig, an office manager obsessed with sharpening pencils. Adam Garrison as Henry, the tech director in pigtails trying to design tech from a cow’s ear (no budget), delivers a dandy performance as well.
Johnston orchestrated an interesting twist in casting veteran actress Terri Laurino as Richfield; the role is written to be played by a male. Laurino kills every moment she’s on stage; her portrayal of Richfield updates the dynamics of the character’s romantic relationship with Gina Ashton as Daisy.
Both actresses find wonderful moments to stand out. Richfield is constantly mangling lines and forgetting props with spot-on comic timing, while Daisy happily wishes everyone “kisses on your openings.”
Kristen Demers overflows with ditzy energy as Mary, the ingenue object of the debonair Tyler (Will Mekelberg’s) desire as the awesome Dracule, who ponders what it “really means to be undead.”
As the cynical veteran actor, Vernon, Steve Bruun never falters, delivering an outstanding performance with stellar stage presence.
Bruun’s wife and daughter also seem to relish playing interns — Lori Brunn as Braun forgets what play she is in and hilariously misplaces a real skull being used as a prop in “Hamlet.”
Their daughter, Emily, as Fiona, and Miranda Snyder, as Karma, find fun moments in the lights as well.
Everything that can go wrong during performances does, and easy laugher rolls through the intimate space. In spite of poking merciless fun at theater, the troupe’s and the playwright’s real affection for their art shines through.
Johnson’s own side-splitting comedy, “House,” was performed at Laurel Mill Playhouse last January; an obvious penchant for clever dialogue and outlandish comedy shows equally well in his direction of Morey’s play.
“Laughing Stock” continues through Sunday, July 15, Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; matinee performances July 8 and 15 at 2 p.m. General admission is $20; students 12 and under and seniors 65 and over, $15. Go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.