‘Play On’  makes for a dizzying romp at Chatham Playhouse

By Liz Keill

CHATHAM, NJ – If you need a laugh, and who doesn’t these days, “Play On” is just right for you. In this scenario, the actors and director have assembled to put on “Murder Most Foul.” But of course, anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

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The phone rings at the wrong time, the Darjeeling Diamond doesn’t appear when it should and mayhem ensues when actors forget their lines and the playwright wants to rewrite the script just before the opening.

The cast is game and pulls it all off with sputtering success. Lauri MacMillan is the haughty Lady Margaret when she isn’t putting the other actors in their place. Jim Clancy is Lord Dudley, doing his best to keep the plot afloat despite the failures and faux pas of the other actors. The dewy eyed Dana Lassiter is played by Ali Archetti, who is smitten with Shane Long’s Stephen Sellers. But he keeps forgetting to stay in character. Then we have Chip Prestera as Doctor Rex Forbes.  This actor is all business in rehearsals, frequently making caustic comments to Lady Margaret. But on opening night he starts helping himself to the drinks table and, of course, manages to mess up the finale.  Not to be overlooked is Doris the Maid, played by Rachel Gesner. Since Doris is an intern, she’s more worried about her biology test than learning her lines. And what she does deliver is usually priceless.

The director, Gerry Dunbar, is played by Aaron Kellner, who is totally frustrated by his cast and even more so when the playwright decides to interfere. Julie Anne Nolan as author Phyllis Montague can’t resist changing plot points and dreaming up another character at the last minute.

It’s much funnier to see than to describe as one disaster follows another. Jessica Phelan is Aggie Manville, the stage manager, who has more than her share of hassles, both on and off stage. Roseann Ruggiero as Louise Peary, the designer and technical director, has her own opinions about sound effects, among other notions. She insists that every murder mystery should have thunder and lightning, whether this one does or not. 

“Play On,” a comedy by Rick Abbott, is directed with glee by John A. Kennedy. Set design by Steven Ruskin shifts effectively from bare bones rehearsal space to polished drawing room. Costumes by Christina Kirk and Kai Movosovich display an equal shift from ordinary to elegant. It definitely takes a smart crew to keep this production bubbling along.

Performances continue through March 9 at The Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit chathamplayers.org.