For many, going to the theater is a fun, once-in-a-while activity — something that would only cause stress if the parking lots are full and you’re five minutes late to the show, or if your phone rings mid-play because you forgot to mute it. After a few hours of watching actors doing the acting, you leave, maybe talk about the play with family and friends, and that’s pretty much the end of it.
However, anyone who has been involved with any musicals or plays at least once in their lives knows how much work goes into those few hours of entertainment. Many will tell you, it’s not an easy process.
This month, the Whidbey Playhouse will give audiences a taste of pure — and a tad exaggerated — theater panic by presenting “Play On!,” a hilariously nightmarish glimpse behind the scenes of a theatrical production.
Stan Thomas is directing this adaptation of Rick Abbott’s original script. He described the story as “a play within a play,” as it follows a small theater group’s struggles to put together the play “Murder Most Foul.”
It’s the 1980s, and the George Washington Wood Bee Island Theatre is in debt, unable to afford any royalty fees. A local and eccentric woman named Phyllis Montague comes to the rescue, offering her murder-mystery play set in the early 1900s that sounds — very — aggressively British.
The Whidbey News-Times’ own Wesley Moran plays young actor Billy Carew, who plays Stephen Sellers in Phyllis’ story.
“Everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong,” said Moran, whose very first acting experience was with “Play On!” when he was in high school. He has been a fan of the show ever since.
“Murder Most Foul” is in fact doomed by constant technical issues, bad acting, workplace drama and a playwright who keeps interrupting rehearsals to announce plot changes despite the fact that there isn’t enough time to practice.
All of this almost brings director Gerry Dunbar — played by Shealyn Christie — to the brink of a homicidal rage.
Allenda Jenkins, who plays the exuberant Phyllis, defended her character as a misunderstood artist who only strives for perfection and is not appreciated by the theater group, which often bullies her to tears.
“Play On!” is not just a reminder to make sure wigs are firmly secured to one’s head and to not drink at work. As several cast members said, the play encourages us to take ourselves less seriously, and to acknowledge that making mistakes is part of the human experience.
Thomas said he appreciates the creative freedom the original play gave them, allowing for some improvised moments that made the play different at each rehearsal.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable experiences that I’ve ever had,” he said. “All the actors are having a great time. We don’t have a rehearsal where somebody doesn’t crack up.”
Ellie Alexander plays Polly Benish, a character who does not deal well with things not going the way she wants, whom Alexander described as “the quintessential diva.”
“I go home from rehearsal, and my cheeks hurt from laughing,” they said, adding it’s the best play they have ever worked on.
Thomas believes comedy should be aimed at children. All ages are welcome to laugh at the George Washington Wood Bee Island Theatre’s endless series of misfortunes and get some secondhand embarrassment.
“Whatever makes a child laugh, usually makes an adult laugh,” he said.
“Play On!” runs Sept. 8 – Oct. 1 Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Whidbey Playhouse.
Will “Murder Most Foul” defeat all odds and launch Phyllis Montague and the cast to stardom, or will it be a deadly flop? To find out, snatch a ticket at whidbeyplayhouse.com or by calling the box office at 360-679-2237.