“Play On!” produces real laughs at Whidbey Playhouse

— Created September 6, 2023 by Kathy Reed

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
“Play On!,” the newest production of Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor, features the cast and crew of a community theater preparing it’s latest production, from the frustrating days of rehearsals through the opening night. The comedy opens Friday and will run through Oct. 1. Pictured from left are Gary Gillespie, Ellie Alexander, Elizabeth Rud, Marianne Campos, Wesley Moran and Eric George.

By Kathy Reed

Pack some tissues before heading to Whidbey Playhouse for its new production of “Play On!” by Rick Abbot, because it’s likely to make audiences laugh until they cry!

The play, directed by Stan Thomas, opens Friday and will run through Oct. 1. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets may be purchased at the box office or online at whidbeyplayhouse.com. All seats are $25.

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Cast members Polly Benish (Ellie Alexander), left, and Violet Imbry (Marianne Campos) try to bond during their community theater rehearsal. The new Whidbey Playhouse production “Play On!” shares the hilarious story of how the production of “Murder Most Foul” finally comes together.

“Play On!” tells the story of a group of community theater thespians who are rehearsing for their production of the show, “Murder Most Foul.” We meet the cast, their director, members of the crew and even the playwright while they are rehearsing, then follow them through their dress rehearsal and finally, opening night. If there was ever a story to illustrate the theory of Murphy’s Law, “Play On!” would be it. Everything that could go wrong, does. Members of the cast and crew have their own opinions of how things should be done, much to the frustration of the show’s director. Add in a playwright who keeps changing the script at the eleventh hour and well, mayhem ensues.

While those in the audience will appreciate the hilarity of the on-stage antics, it must be noted the actors have signed up for a difficult play. There are a lot of purposeful missteps to keep straight as this story unfolds and the cast does a great job of remembering where they’re at in all the different versions of the story we see.

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Allenda Jenkins plays Phyllis Montague in the Rick Abbot play, “Play On!” Montague keeps adding lines and changing the script of her play “Murder Most Foul,” as cast members try to keep up with the changes. The comedy about the play within a play opens Friday at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor.

“It’s difficult when you are saying the same lines over and over and expecting different results,” explained director Thomas. “For example, ‘Is this the part when the phone rings or has the sound person made an error?  How do I respond?’  You constantly have to be on your toes. If your mind drifts, you’re in real trouble. I admire the six actors who have to say the same lines over and over and manage to keep them straight. I especially admire the sound operator, Elizabeth Lo, for managing to keep the sound cues organized.

“The audience will enjoy the pratfalls and the verbal mix-ups,” he continued. “They will laugh when the various characters make jokes and say things that might hurt other characters. But I think they will also see that what the individual actor is doing is difficult; it requires total concentration and staying in character even when things go wrong. And it requires respect and even love for the other people that they are acting with. They are all in it together.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Eric George plays Saul Watson in the Whidbey Playhouse production of “Play On!” Watson is a former Off-Broadway actor who now can only get roles in community theater productions.

“The story is great, the show-within-a-show is unlike anything audiences have ever seen, and the fact that it’s set in a community theater just adds to the outlandishness of the show,” said Eric George, who plays the role of Saul Watson. “I like to think of him as one of those actors who performed Off-Broadway and had moderate success. [He has] aged out of the younger male roles, fallen down the actor ladder, and is now performing in community theater. He thinks that because he has all this experience, he is a Brando or Olivier, but the truth is, now he is just a great big ham.”

Allenda Jenkins, who plays “Murder Most Foul” playwright Phyllis Montague, was also intrigued by the play within a play concept of “Play On!”

“It was interesting from the point of view of the playwright,” she said. “I can relate to many of the funny situations the characters are working through to put on a play together. The behind the scenes work to mount a production from rehearsal to performance is presented in a humorous way. The prop, set and costume malfunctions, as well as dropped lines and missed cues, give the audience a hilarious inside look into the world of theater.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Cast members of the fictitious play “Murder Most Foul” crack up during the dress rehearsal of their community theater play. The play within a play is the premise of the comedy “Play On!” opening Friday at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor. Pictured on stage from left are Gary Gillespie, Ellie Alexander, Marianne Campos and Wesley Moran, with Kim Dolan and Kevin Wm. Meyer in the overhead booth.

“The idea of memorizing the show and purposefully messing it up just sounded interesting and I wanted to experience it,” said Marianne Campos, who plays Violet Imbry. “Violet isn’t the brightest person and she’s pretty clumsy, but she has a deep passion for fashion and theater. I like to say she’s only smart when she’s acting.”

Wesley Moran plays Billy Carew, his first theater role 12 years ago. He’s been on Whidbey Island for a year-and-a-half now and said he’s excited to play Billy again, in order to gauge his growth as an actor, but he also enjoys playing a role to its fullest.

“Billy is the future leading man of this community theater,” he said. “He has been around the block, so to speak, but he has not put in the hours Saul has at this point. I am a fan of the physicality of stage acting, especially when a scene calls for a prat fall. I get two opportunities during the show to throw myself around stage and I have grand time doing it.”

Ellie Alexander, who plays Polly Benish, said the concept of this play is also what led her to audition.

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
The cast and director are not pleased when the playwright wants to make changes to the show during their dress rehearsal. The madcap story of how their play comes together sets the stage for the comedy “Play On!” opening Friday at Whidbey Playhouse.  Pictured from left are Ellie Alexander, Wesley Moran, Shealyn Christie, Marianne Campos and Allenda Jenkins.

“I think audiences will really enjoy being able to see the work that goes into a show like the ones Whidbey Playhouse puts on,” they said. “Although it’s definitely exaggerated to some extent, all of the chaos we portray in ‘Play On!’ actually happens during the run of a show.”

Thomas, who is at home directing either comedy or drama, said it’s his job to bring out the moments in any story to which people on and off stage can relate.

“Every person involved in theater has war stories about things that have gone wrong in past productions,” he said. “However, what we have done here is draw upon our memories of what is funny. The script tells us our lines but the playwright of ‘Play On!’ wisely decided to allow us, the cast and crew, to create many of the instances of humor found in the play. 

“True laughter comes when a person recognizes something of themselves when they view a humorous incident,” Thomas continued. “For example, when a person trips and falls, it’s funny.  You are not laughing because they may have hurt themselves, but rather, you see yourself possibly doing the same.”

Whidbey Playhouse is located at 730 SE Midway Blvd. in Oak Harbor. Performances of “Play On!” begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. and will run through Sunday, Oct. 1.

“People should attend ‘Play On!’ because if laughter is medicine, consider us the pharmacy,” said Alexander. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it’s turned out. My cheeks hurt from laughing every night I go home from rehearsal!”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Marianne Campos plays Violet Imbry in “Play On!” The show opens Friday at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor and runs through Oct. 1

“This has been such a rewarding experience and I honestly have had the best time with my fellow actors,” George said. “‘Play On!’ is a great show, a funny show that people will laugh out loud at. It’s unique in its story and the show within a show is something people will just not expect.” 

“‘Play On!’ is both a theatrical teaching tool as well as a hysterical comedy,” said Thomas. “ To quote a person who has seen our production, ‘I laughed until I started to tear up.’ Come and laugh with us!”