By Kimberly Rau
The Community Players of Pawtucket, the oldest community theater in Rhode Island, celebrated its 100th season this year. Its 375th production, and final show in this season, is Rick Abbott’s “Play On!,” which is a rather meta look at a community theater cast trying to put on a murder mystery authored by a local woman who thinks it’s perfectly appropriate to show up during tech week with rewrites.
In this show, the Players Community Theatre is attempting to mount a production of “Murder Most Foul” (no, not the Agatha Christie movie), where a wealthy family is beset with problems at a dinner party after obtaining a cursed necklace. In the first act, our cast and crew is rehearsing the show. No one seems to know their lines, the set designer is ill-tempered, the stage manager is trying to hold it all together and the director is just trying to prod everyone towards opening night. In the second act, the dress rehearsal is fraught with more problems and in the third act, opening night, everything comes together – if by “together,” you mean “literally crashing down.”
It’s a slow build of a show with some corny humor and dated dialogue (the play was written and is set in the 1980s), but the payoff in the third act is well worth the wait. Director Greg Geer made sure that every setup that’s planted in the first and second acts hits big before curtain, including a really funny bit with the telephone that gets bigger and bigger throughout the show. His cohesive, strong cast takes care of the rest, making it an enjoyable evening out.
Though the entire cast does its job well (especially considering the somewhat clunky script they had to work with), highlights include Molly Sheehan as Smitty, the student who is the housemaid in the play-within-a-play. Smitty is a new actor who thinks every word deserves its own grandiose physical gesture, and Sheehan plays it to another level of perfectly cringe-worthy. Ryan Foster exhibits some exemplary physical comedy skills while playing Violet, who is cast as a socialite in “Murder.” Daechelle Strange as Louise, the world-weary and cranky set designer, manages to make even wielding a hammer funny. And Eve Marie Webster as the completely out of touch author Phyllis Montague is hilarious from the moment she steps foot on stage.
Truly an ensemble piece, this is one production where everyone is committed to their roles and each other, and it shows. Joe and Sam O’Dea designed a fantastic set that looks great even when it’s falling apart, and Erika Koch’s costumes are perfectly 80s. If you’re looking for a fun evening and a farce, this is the show for you.
Play On! runs through July 17 at Jenks Auditorium, 350 Division St., Pawtucket. Tickets may be obtained at the door, online at thecommunityplayers.net or by calling the reservation line at 401.726.6860.