‘Laughing Stock’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

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Even if you aren’t acquainted with any of the actors in the play, or if you have ever been involved with a theatrical production anywhere, you’ll recognize some old friends when you go see Little Theatre of Alexandria’s Laughing Stock. The play, written by Charles Morey, affectionately pokes fun at the various tropes and stereotypes that pervade the theatre world in general and the world of summer stock/local/reparatory theatre in particular.

Lars Klores (Gordon Page), Michael Dobbyn (Jack Morris), Kat Sanchez (Susannah Huntsmen), Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), and Will MacLeod (Tyler Taylor). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.
Lars Klores (Gordon Page), Michael Dobbyn (Jack Morris), Kat Sanchez (Susannah Huntsmen), Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), and Will MacLeod (Tyler Taylor). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.

Director Shawn g. Byers has gathered a cast and crew who also clearly love this world, while remaining fully aware of its limitations and frequent frivolity.

The story opens in a barn where Gordon Page (played by Lars Klores, whose praises I will sing shortly) is enthusiastically showing the venue to prospective actor, Jack Morris (Michael Dobbyn). He is explaining how this unassuming structure will transform into a theater for its 82nd year of summer stock to ambitiously host productions of Charley’s Aunt, King Lear (later changed to Hamlet), and Dracule, Prince of Darkness (a Dracula adaption written by Gordon himself).

Fast forward to auditions, where you meet adorably naïve and exhaustingly eager young Mary Pierre (Abigail Ropp), swaggering and self-confident Casanova Tyler Taylor (Will MacLeod), pompous and reluctantly jaded Vernon Volker (Tom Flatt), and longstanding company mainstays Richfield Hawksley and Daisy Coates (Ted Culler and Natalie Fox). First time director, Susannah Huntsmen (Kat Sanchez), is also in attendance, whose complete incompetence amusingly becomes more apparent throughout the subsequent scenes as she utters such gems as “Directing doesn’t have anything to do with acting” and refuses to show up to her own blocking rehearsal because she finds it “boring.”

Tom Flatt (Vernon Volker, Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), Michael Dobbyn (Jack Morris), Abigail Ropp (Mary Pierre). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.
Tom Flatt (Vernon Volker, Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), Michael Dobbyn (Jack Morris), Abigail Ropp (Mary Pierre). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.

Fast forward again and the rest of the members of the company are introduced during the first meeting of the summer: Long-winded accountant/office manager/pencil-Nazi, Craig Conlin (played so frustratingly convincingly by Larry Grey that you long to break all of his precious pencils in half right in front of him), alcoholic stage manager, Sarah McKay (the perky Melissa Dunlap), over-worked set/lighting/costume/prop/sound/effect designer, Henry Mills (comically embodied by Richard Isaacs), and the summer apprentices Braun Oakes (Brian Selcik), Karma Schneider (Hilary Adams), and Ian Milliken (Christian Menendez-Ayala). Chaos and hilarity ensue.

Standout performances include Lars Klores, Will MacLeod, and Christian Menendez-Ayala. Although his small role does not give him much material to work with, Menendez-Ayala’s version of Ian the apprentice feels like much more than an incidental character. His constant apathy and underlying air of teenage moodiness (augmented by face-obstructing “emo” bangs) leave you wondering why Ian is voluntarily spending his summer with this motley crew doing the jobs no one else wants to do and admittedly sleeping “about four hours…the entire summer.” Mysteriously, however, his love for the theater subtly yet convincingly shines through. What is this character’s backstory?

MacLeod makes Tyler the funniest character in this show of funny characters. His delivery is comic, his movements are wild, and his personality is big. His performance of Tyler as Dracule, Prince of Darkness, is itself worth the price of admission. Finally, Klores is the lynchpin of both the fictional theater company and the actual real-life production. He skillfully creates chemistry with each actor, convincingly carries on several fake phone conversations, and impressively manages to portray Hamlet as Gordon Page playing Hamlet rather than as Lars Klores playing Hamlet. Without Klores, this would have been a much different (and possibly less successful) production.

As is usually the opposite case for many shows, the second act of this show is more amusing than the first. The technical precision and creativity of Lighting Designer Jeff Scott Auerbach, Sound Designer Alan Wray, Set Designer Grant Kevin Lane, Special Effects Designer Art Snow, and the myriad of talented crew members is especially highlighted in this act as the company stages their (hilariously flawed) versions of Dracula and of Hamlet. I do question, however,  some of the under-utilization of certain large and detailed set pieces.

 Natalie Fox (Daisy Coates), Tom Flatt (Vernon Volker) (in the back in green), Kat Sanchez (Susannah Huntsmen), Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), and Abigail Ropp (Mary Pierre) (on knees). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.
Natalie Fox (Daisy Coates), Tom Flatt (Vernon Volker) (in the back in green), Kat Sanchez (Susannah Huntsmen), Ted Culler (Richfield Hawksley), and Abigail Ropp (Mary Pierre) (on knees). Photo by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography.

Stage Managers Charles Dragonette and Margaret Evans-Joyce as well as Assistant Director Brendan Quinn do a remarkable job of keeping the show flowing and bringing Director Shawn g. Byers’ madcap vision to life.

There’s a lot of energy and fun and laughs in LTA’s riotous Laughing Stock. With the sheer number of performance dates, there really is no excuse to miss this show!

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Laughing Stock plays through September 26, 2015 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets call the box office at (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 1: Will MacLeod.

Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 2: Director Shawn G. Byers.

Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 3: Tom Flatt.

Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 4: Abigail Ropp.

Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 5: Ted Culler.

Meet the Cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s ‘Laughing Stock’: Part 6: Hilary Adams.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS6.gif