By Teri L. Hansen
The McPherson Community Theatre will take the McPherson Opera House, stage at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 through Nov. 16 and 2 p.m. on Nov. 17, performing their production of Rick Abbot’s “Play On.”
“The plot is pretty simple, the show is about a local community theater putting on a production by a playwright who keeps changing the script,” Director Lisa Slack said. “It’s four days to opening, and nobody can remember their lines, as things keep getting rewritten. Basically, it’s every community theater’s nightmare; forgetting lines, blocking, and not having what is needed to put on the production successfully.”
Abbot is one of the many pen names used by playwright Jack Sharkey, 1931-1992. The U.S. Army veteran is known for numerous works including novels, articles, plays and he was even a joke editor for Playboy Magazine. “Play On” is one of 83 published plays by this iconic writer.
“I think people will be amazed that the actors can keep a straight face in the midst of the humor,” Slack said. Slack, a veteran of the stage, has been involved in more than 35 community theater productions here and in Hutchinson. “It is probably one of the funniest shows I have seen or directed. The actors, even though they have been rehearsing for weeks, add little parts to their character that make it hilarious.”
“Play On” is a humorous story about a theater group, not unlike the McPherson Community Theatre. The group is putting on a play and the story follows the silly, stupid and hilarious challenges that the troupe encounters while trying to put on their production.
“I think anybody will love this show, honestly,” Slack said. When she is not on the stage, Slack works for Aetna Medicaid as a service coordinator and teaches part-time for Salina Technical College. “The humor might be missed with younger audience members, though. I would say 13 and up would really get the type of humor this show has.”
The production brings about its own unique set of challenges. This is essentially a play within a play. The cast and crew have to make themselves into characters within characters.
“The actors had to not only create a main character, but they also had to bring to life a character for the play they were putting on,” Slack explained. “It did help that they could be creative with accents and costuming will also help. However, there are times where they are their main character and then their play character within the same sentence.”
A family-friendly production, “Play On” has a little something for everyone. The characters and plot while intricate, are also relatable to the cast as well as the audience. Even Slack’s position as director is portrayed in the show.
“I think the audience will be thinking about the complexity of the characters. I have watched these actors grow from our first read through and still laugh at all the subtle nuances they add to each character they play. The one-liners and almost slap stick humor will have the audience reliving those moments, too,” Slack explained. “I would say Sheila (Billings) in the role of director is probably closest to their character. Some of her lines, I’m sure, she has actually uttered in her day to day job.”
This story is unique for directors in that it showcases a crew’s worst fears during a production. While a comical representation, it certainly isn’t what a director wants to see happen.
“I love directing and jumped at the chance to help MCT put on this production. I usually directed teens and under, so I was very excited at the chance to direct adults,” Slack said. “This is also a production about all that can go wrong in a live, community theater show-which made it a personal experience, as well.”
The group has taken challenges in stride. They’ve each lent their own personal flavor to the story and brought it to life as only McPherson’s Community Theatre can do.
“Each time a cast puts on a production, it becomes uniquely their own. The words from the scripts don’t vary from production to production, but the actors themselves do; how they relate to their character, how they chose to speak and what words are accentuated. I tell every cast I direct that this is the first time this particular production of the play will be seen. I also believe the cast has vast theater experience, so they can relate to the struggles their characters face in this show,” Slack said. “I love the costumes for the play within the play and think each person helped create an image for the audience of how they want their character portrayed.”
Tickets are available for purchase at https://mcphersonoperahouse.org/ or at the box office of the McPherson Opera House at 219 S. Main St. in McPherson.