Laughter to light Old Town’s winter nights appears to be on a roll at the Laurel Mill Playhouse in its current run of “12 Incompetent Jurors” — a parody of the 1950s drama “12 Angry Men” — written by American actor/playwright Ian McWethy.
McWethy has 27 one-acts (15 have been performed across the U.S. and abroad) and six full-length plays to his credit. He has also written screenplays and television comedy.
On his website, McWethy writes that he conceived this show while serving jury duty because he was “bored,” and then subsequently produced and acted in it.
Produced and directed here by Maureen Rogers and Ilene Chalmers, respectively, the spoof is set in a jury’s chambers. Beautifully designed by Chalmers, pale green wall flats with faux wood paneling and narrow tables wrapping three walls allow ample space for getting the actors off their seats and into some lovely slapstick.
The stage is managed by Lori Brun; the show’s sound design is credited to Fred Nelson and fight choreography to Tom Plott. Sascha Nelson assembled the eye-catching costumes, hair and makeup. David Chalmers and cast built the set.
Once the lights rise, the jurors begin turning logic upside down to start the laughter rolling.
Laughter, Chalmers writes in the program, is “in these difficult times … the one thing we all need to keep hanging on” and it rises like a star in her superbly-paced runaway comedy.
Opening the show, Lorraine Brooks makes a majestic Judge, addressing the audience as the jury to summarize the “insane” case of Donald Pleats, a man who abducted six cats. Exasperated by the overkill of evidence presented over two weeks, she admonishes that it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict.
“Come on. The man stole the cats,” she says, and exits.
Enter 12 wildly contrasting characters, some in outfits that most folks wouldn’t dream of wearing, to jury duty. And while McWethy’s script loosely follows “12 Angry Men,” his characters are written from an actor’s perspective.
The Jury Foreman (played by Stephanie Ichniowski), for instance, will unexpectedly leap into a staged British accent at odd moments to practice her improv skills. Quirky and funny in the role, Ichniowski also performs a wonderful schtik with Eight (Brian Douglas) in act 2.
Rebecca Kortoba plays Two, an anxiety-ridden woman who vacillates between cowering and shouting. McWethy intends to push the boundaries of political correctness with his rich characters — anything for a laugh, even mental health issues are fair game — and Kortoba milks the comic role with finesse.
Three, played by Fred Nelson, is an intelligent Everyman. As the voice of reason, he brings exquisite timing to the mix, and his incredulous facial expressions are priceless.
Playhouse regular Malarie Zeeks rocks playing Four, an irreverent, pastel millennial who’s glued to her cell phone and full of sarcastic zingers.
Five, played by Alan Burnett, is the husband (on stage and off) of Six, played by Penni Barnett. The overblown chemistry these two create is always entertaining, but especially in the funny business surrounding “flapping gums” that Nelson (Three) has a hand in.
Reed Simon (Seven) is also a riot as the gay dork boy in a parody that is not for the easily offended.
Eight, played by Douglas, exploits Seven mercilessly, coins the phrase, “Catnapper,” introduces conspiracy theories and goes to ridiculous lengths to turn the jurors’ verdict. His smug character may not be likable, but he is hilarious.
French fries-eating Nine, played by Ronald Araujo, is beyond smarmy. It is a credit to the actor that he makes the lewd and unlikable character mostly funny.
And as the angriest juror; Nik Henle’s biting performance as Ten makes a strong statement on intolerance.
Terri Laurino plays Eleven, a PR woman who works for celebrities and competes fiercely with Three for leadership status. Laurino brings on excellent timing, physicality and technique.
Twelve, played by Ruta Douglas Smith, is an obtuse foreigner with limited English who keeps trying to smoke; and her peasant girl persona catches lots of chuckles.
Last, Cuddles the Cat makes several visually exciting appearances.
Well played across the board, “12 Incompetent Jurors” is a hoot. And though it is inappropriate for young children, the pleasure Chalmer’s ensemble exudes performing it spills easily into an adult audience.
“12 Incompetent Jurors” continues through Sunday, Feb. 24, Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; and Sunday matinee performances Feb. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. General admission is $20; seniors 65 and over pay $15. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.