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Review: 'Play On!' has layers of fun

Mike Brown as Henry and Darcy McDowell as Polly act as their “Murder Most Foul” characters in this play within a play. The story follows a cast and crew as they attempt to prepare for opening night. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Jack Clauss as Algie, Anne Spradley as Phyllis and Karla Haas as Louise react backstage to the drama in The Phipps’ performance of “Play On!” The productions runs through July 30. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Garbled lines, personal tensions and an interfering playwright plague the cast of "Murder Most Foul," which bring laughs to the audience of The Phipps' most recent production "Play On!"

A play within a play, the production follows the cast and crew behind-the-scenes and on-stage as they attempt to prepare for opening night.

The dynamic creates an intimacy with the audience, so they feel they are a part of the cast itself. Watching the actors slip from their "Murder Most Foul" characters into their "real" persona, makes the audience feel like they're really seeing behind-the-scenes, even if it is just another layer of characters. One of the best moments of the performance comes when the group is rehearsing the play within a play, and Violet, played by Lisa Shafer, mixes up her lines, causing her fellow cast members to slip out of their characters. Both audience and actor are laughing together at the mistake, and the audience is a part of the moment.

The multiple layers of characters also brings multiple layers of humor. Audiences can laugh and enjoy the barbs thrown between cast and crew members behind the scenes. Then once the director calls "curtain," new humor is found in the often exaggerated motions and overacting the actors take on while in character.

When the premiere comes around in act three, the audience is laughing the whole way through.

Hudson locals Jack Clauss and Karla Haas provide the backstage dynamics as stage manager Algie and crew member Louise, alternating between throwing each other under the bus and helping each other out. Clauss' sarcastic remarks, always perfectly timed, are one of the funniest parts of the play. Shafer, Olivia Martin, Colin Eral, Andrew Robertson, Darcy McDowell and Mike Brown impressively take on two roles as the cast members of "Murder Most Foul," slipping between fancy lords and ladies and exasperated actors easily.

Anne Spradley takes on the interrupting personality of the playwright Phyllis who comes in "you-hooing" at the worst moments to make drastic changes to the scripts. Her giddy, sometimes clueless manner helps the audience once again relate to the actors, feeling their frustration. Tricia Cook as director Gerry attempts, and usually fails, to rein everything in, adding to the laughs.

The staging shows the progress a real production might have, going from metal chairs to a few real pieces to fully furnished throughout the three acts.

Overall, "Play On!" captures the authenticity of what goes into putting on a production like this. From the coffee breaks to wardrobe malfunctions, it all feels like the audience is peeking backstage.

"Play On!" runs July 14-30 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $26 for adults and $19 for students.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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