By Becky Evans
My sister flew in for a visit, and I took her to see Play ON! at Farmington Community Arts Center. It is a hilarious play within a play loosely based around a murder mystery that keeps being interrupted and re-written by an eccentric playwright. As Director Katie Evans said in her Director’s note, “Play ON has been described as a “love letter” to community theatre and for anyone who has been lucky enough to be a part of a community theatre group will happily attest to all the truths behind (this) farce.”
As we entered the Arts Center and were seated by some nice-looking teens, it became obvious that Play On! is more than a show, it is an experience. We were seated at a reserved table with fancy black tablecloths and flowers and served a three-course meal. This year’s food is sensational. I had salad, breadsticks, pot roast that was to die for, (I need to try and track down someone’s recipe) mashed potatoes, veggies, followed up with decadent dessert. We got to know the couple sitting next to us as we bonded over our love of community theatre.
Following dinner, we met the cast of characters who were rehearsing for a murder mystery show that they were supposed to be putting on in a few days. The actors are led by Gerry (Shantelle Argyle) who is a graceful but frustrated director trying to keep control and guide her actors. Argyle pulls off the emotion of exasperation very well.
She is assisted by Aggie (Marinda Maxfield), her hard-working, slightly scattered assistant director who seemed so real to me that at times I forgot she was acting and thought she was really running the show. I have known many Aggies in my experiences with musical theatre and she reminded me of some great experiences on stage. The actors include Saul (Ryan Bruckman), a hilarious goof off who keeps the show hopping. Bruckman is so quick-witted and charming, although many of his jokes reminded me of my 10-year old’s humor. Bruckman has great comedic timing and an awesome accent that reminds me of Phil Vischer (Bob the Tomato from VeggieTales). Polly (Windy Martin) plays a cute, yet insecure actress who has to put up with shenanigans of her cast mates. She gets to wear some of the best costumes in the show (designed by Angela McKeen Cooper). Violet (Katie Plott) was a favorite at our table. She excels at playing dumb while maintaining a sweet innocence that makes her extremely likeable. In the play within a play, she overacts and almost always directs her lines to the sound booth rather than the person who is speaking to her, which is very funny. Henry (Joseph Nichols) demonstrates great physicality onstage and is the epitome of a nervous bumbling actor. I’m not sure if this was Nichols’ first theatre experience but he looks like he was made to be onstage. Smitty (Laura Malstrom) is extremely believable in her role of a busy high school student who even shows some teenage attitude as she just wants to get done rehearsing so she can get her homework done. Louise (Kati Paul) is a loud, tough stage manager who directs backstage activities and does the things a stage crew does. Paul is committed to her role and stays in character throughout the show, even when she changes set during intermission.
Billy (Mark Andrus) is also a favorite. He has great stage presence, seems easygoing, fluid, and likeable and makes you feel like he would be a fun guy to go get drinks with. Phyllis (Richard Bowman) is the hysterical playwright who wishes to meddle in all aspects of the shows rehearsal process. Bowman looks great in a skirt and walks amazingly well in heels. In every way, Bowman is the perfect Diva.
The mystery of Play ON! unravels like a game of “Clue” but much funnier. For audience members, the key is make it to the third act because that is when the true fun starts. As my friend Rebecca said, “I was laughing so much tonight during Farmington City’s Dinner Theater production of Play ON! I’m pretty sure my makeup smeared with all the tears gushing from my eyes. This show is HILARIOUS!”
Evans did a great job with this, her directorial debut. Play ON! is funny, entertaining, and I often found myself being sucked in to the actors’ world and then reminding myself that it was part of the script. Being a play within a play and making light of things like missed cues, and grand body gestures, Play ON! feels authentic and not really like a script. The actors and actresses have so much fun with it. I can only imagine how fun real rehearsals might have been for this talented group. My sister who flew in from North Carolina was impressed with the caliber of talent that Evans was able to collect for this production.
The lighting was great (Darren Maxfield), the sound (teched by Mark Pizzouli) was not distracting or off in any way, and the set design (Zach Evans) worked well for the space that was available. I can’t say enough good things about the overall experience. The dinner is amazing and all the volunteers who put the event together make for a special evening of good food and good laughs.
Because of the length of the show (dinner and three acts took just under three hours), as well as the language, Play ON! is best suited for adults.
Farmington Community Arts Center presents Play ON! by Rick Abbot
120 S Main St, Farmington, UT 84025
Tickets: $20/ person (includes dinner)
Oct. 11-14th 2017 Dinner 7:00 PM, Show 7:30-ish
Farmington Community Arts Center Facebook Page