Revival of 'Laughing Stock' is a farcical love-letter to the stage

Utah theater • PTC yucks it up with "Laughing Stock," Charles Morey's farcical love-letter to all things theater.

By Ben Fulton The Salt Lake Tribune

Published March 16th 2012 5:41 pm



When Pioneer Theatre Company artistic director Charles Morey adapted Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula for the stage in the 1990 season, the resulting production he directed was riveting fall-season theater.

When the same play was performed years later by New Hampshire's Peterborough Players, Morey's theatrical alma mater of the 1970s, the result veered between a muddle and a shambles.

He knew beforehand that the story of Dracula is so dramatically overheated that only a professional cast could pull it off. But as a true man of the theater, Morey refused to walk out.

"We've all been in productions that just didn't work," he said. "You always watch to the very end, out of respect for the actors and for the love of theater. There's always something there to appreciate and take away, even if all you do is sit there, thinking about why it's all going wrong."

Morey ended up distilling all that can, will and does go wrong in theater for "Laughing Stock," his 2001 stage farce. More than 10 years later, the play will receive a revival performance as his "love-letter" to the theater and a giggling swan song to his final months after 28 years directing PTC.

The play charts the adventures of Gordon Page, wide-eyed and ever-hectic artistic director of The Playhouse, as he and a group of earnest, but not always sure-footed, actors tackle "Dracula, Prince of the Undead," "Hamlet" and "Charley's Aunt." By the time rehearsal's over and the curtain rises, all three cross-pollinate onstage. Sound effects are miscued, lighting is mangled, lines are dropped.

"No one died. I thought that was pretty funny when Richfield went for Tyler with the crowbar," says Sarah, the theater's stage manger, in attempts to comfort everyone.

Meanwhile, The Playhouse's "producing executive administrative director," Craig Conlin, tries to pull off financial triage, rationing pencils in attempts to control costs and fund the next season.

For anyone experienced in running a theater, or who's helped raise an amateur or even professional production off the ground, "Laughing Stock" may result in the laughter of the damned. Morey's humor is delivered with affection, not derision. He insists in his author's note to the script that laughs arise not "from the disasters that befall [the characters], but the manner in which they attempt to cope with those disasters, cover their miscues and right the sinking ship."

Unlike Christopher Guest's film "Waiting for Guffman" or Michael Frayn's "Noises Off," works that also take audiences behind the scenes of theater in the making, "Laughing Stock" imparts little in the way of mean-spiritedness.

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When Pioneer Theatre Company artistic director Charles Morey adapted Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula for the stage in the 1990 season, the resulting production he directed was riveting fall-season theater.

When the same play was performed years later by New Hampshire's Peterborough Players, Morey's theatrical alma mater of the 1970s, the result veered between a muddle and a shambles.

He knew beforehand that the story of Dracula is so dramatically overheated that only a professional cast could pull it off. But as a true man of the theater, Morey refused to walk out.

"We've all been in productions that just didn't work," he said. "You always watch to the very end, out of respect for the actors and for the love of theater. There's always something there to appreciate and take away, even if all you do is sit there, thinking about why it's all going wrong."

Morey ended up distilling all that can, will and does go wrong in theater for "Laughing Stock," his 2001 stage farce. More than 10 years later, the play will receive a revival performance as his "love-letter" to the theater and a giggling swan song to his final months after 28 years directing PTC.

The play charts the adventures of Gordon Page, wide-eyed and ever-hectic artistic director of The Playhouse, as he and a group of earnest, but not always sure-footed, actors tackle "Dracula, Prince of the Undead," "Hamlet" and "Charley's Aunt." By the time rehearsal's over and the curtain rises, all three cross-pollinate onstage. Sound effects are miscued, lighting is mangled, lines are dropped.

"No one died. I thought that was pretty funny when Richfield went for Tyler with the crowbar," says Sarah, the theater's stage manger, in attempts to comfort everyone.

Meanwhile, The Playhouse's "producing executive administrative director," Craig Conlin, tries to pull off financial triage, rationing pencils in attempts to control costs and fund the next season.

For anyone experienced in running a theater, or who's helped raise an amateur or even professional production off the ground, "Laughing Stock" may result in the laughter of the damned. Morey's humor is delivered with affection, not derision. He insists in his author's note to the script that laughs arise not "from the disasters that befall [the characters], but the manner in which they attempt to cope with those disasters, cover their miscues and right the sinking ship."

Unlike Christopher Guest's film "Waiting for Guffman" or Michael Frayn's "Noises Off," works that also take audiences behind the scenes of theater in the making, "Laughing Stock" imparts little in the way of mean-spiritedness. [2] =>

"That's all [the audience] really want, you know," says Daisy, one of the play's eccentric cast, played by the well-known Utah actor Joyce Cohen, also Morey's wife. "To sit in the dark and listen to stories. And the best we can ever do is just that."

Along with Cohen, Pioneer Theatre Company's new production, opening Friday, March 23, returns to the stage several actors who created characters for the play's February 2001 Salt Lake City world premiere or in subsequent productions.

"The laughs are sometimes so huge you almost feel them as a physical force," said Jack Koenig, who plays Gordon Page and was also cast in a 2004 Peterborough Players production directed by Morey. "It's a laugh machine, and you're deep inside it."

Morey said today's Peterborough Playhouse is nothing like the hardscrabble theater company of the past that inspired it. He's also careful to point out that while "Laughing Stock" is built ground-up from his 42 years in professional theater, Page isn't an autobiographical character. Instead, he's an archetype of anyone who ever made the mad dash and struggle to create art or theater against all odds.

"The threat of farce is what motivates us to avoid humiliation when the curtain rises," Morey said. "That's a feeling most of us know. There's always that thought flitting across your mind that your fly might be open, so to speak."

bfulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Artsalt

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Pioneer Theatre Company’s ‘Laughing Stock’

When • Opens Friday, March 23, and continues through April 7. Mondays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.

Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City.

Info • $25-$44. Call 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org for more information.