Sunday, April 5, 2015

Laughing Stock at Olympia Little Theatre

Abby Wells as Mary and Ryan Martin Holmberg a Dracula.

People were laughing uproariously at Olympia Little Theatre’s Laughing Stock the night I saw it. I’m talking about the kind of laughter where you rock back and forth in your seat and practically fall on the floor, the kind where tears stream down your cheeks. 

It’s an insanely funny show. But not every moment is funny. There were some bits that I thought were ridiculous, such as when a bunch of incompetent stagehands—it’s a show about a theater company— were unable to complete the simple task of carrying a ladder from one place to another. This bit and some others like it were either too silly or too juvenile, or they went on too long. There were also some serious moments that would have been stronger if they were shorter. However other scenes were comic gold, such as Ryan Holmberg’s “entrance” as Dracula (pronounced Dra Kool) the undead impaler, through a door that isn’t there, and the insane moment in rehearsal for Charlie’s Aunt when the director makes the actors pretend to be animals at a watering hole in an African jungle, and when a stage hand (Hannah Eklund) inexplicably crawls across the stage like a cat darting after a mouse.
Bonnie Vandver as Daisy and Richard Young as Vernon. Photos courtesy Olympia Little Theatre
In other words, it is a farce, and this type of over-the-top comedy is always risky. The writer, actors and director have to have the guts to take big chances on things that may or may not work or that will be hilarious to some people and senseless to others.
Laughing Stock by Charles Morey and directed by Christian Carvajal is mostly hysterically funny.
Set in 1993, the Playhouse is a summer stock theater that has been hanging on by the skin of its teeth for years. The artistic director, Gordon Page (played by Rick Pearlstein), wants to do serious dramas by the likes of Ibsen and Shakespeare, but the theater’s major donor, without whom they can’t survive, wants them to do Sound of Music. Placating the money lady is a constant struggle for him. Another constant struggle is dealing with a motely group of actors including Tyler Taylor (Holmberg), possibly the most melodramatic ham ever to trod the boards; a terrible director named Susannah (Jess Allan), who is college roommate of the daughter of the Playhouse’s backer; a couple of old-timers: Daisy Coates (Bonnie Vandver) and Richfield Hawksley (John Pratt), who can’t remember characters’ names or much of anything else; and an over-acting and overly sexed ingénue named Mary (Abby Wells).
The Playhouse is doing Dracula, Charlie’s Aunt and Hamlet in repertory and, of course, everything that can possibly go wrong does, Opening night is a disaster, but in the end there is a Kumbaya moment when everyone realizes that a theater company is truly a family. While true that theater folk do bond over the course of a play or a season, this particular moment borders on maudlin. But it is a sweet ending.
The set, which is really no set at all, is a floor painted to look like a barn floor with a curtained stage at the back, and that works nicely. Tables, chairs and various props are brought out as needed. The blocking, which I like to think of as the unseen choreography, is excellent. The acting is uneven in spots. Holmberg is outstanding. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role as well. Pearlstein, who has been developing as an actor over the past four years, gets better with every play, and he is terrific here. David Phillips as the head tech guy is excellent, Heather Cantrell is loveable and believable as Sarah, the  stage manager who is Gordon Page’s ex-wife, and Pratt is aptly ditsy as the forgetful Richfield.
Overall it’s a fun show. It’s loaded with insider theater jokes, but you don’t have to get them all to enjoy this show.
Performances have been selling out, so it is advisable to get tickets as early as possible.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through April 19
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, $2 student discount
INFORMATION: (360) 786-9484,

Don’t forget, the Tip jar. Thank you.

No comments: