Now you usually know that you're inside a farce when you keep seeing doors everywhere. Well, that's just not the case with KTK's production of Laughing Stock which runs through May 8. It's a pretty hilarious look at a struggling New England summer stock company. They're trying to put together three plays for the 67th season of this old barn theater. On stage there's nary a door in sight. But one young actor feels that a door is so essential to his entrance that he's willing to actually carry a door on stage when he enters.

It is indeed a farce, and it's become deservedly popular among small companies and community theatres. The large cast includes all the classic theatrical archetypes. Gordon, the artistic director, must produce three plays--to be performed in repertory. First there's Charley's Aunt -- a sure-fire crowd pleaser, yes? (Wanna bet?) Then there's Gordon's own new adaption of Dracula (but it's got to be pronounced "Dra-KOOHL"). Finally, why not do King Lear? Well, the reason is that our major donor thinks Lear is too depressing, so let's do something brighter. How about Hamlet? (And, by the way, this donor would really like to see us do The Sound of Music.)

We see auditions in a shabby rented room in New York--its wallpaper pathetically peeling. There are eager youngsters--Tyler, full of pretentious actor jargon, and the slightly sluttish ingénue, Mary. There's Vernon, embittered from a thirty-year stagnant career. There are the dear old veterans, Richfield and Daisy. There's Jack, who has real talent, but will be going to law school in the fall. Karma and Brauna are clueless interns. And plunked into this swirl of personalities we have guest director Susannah. She's never been on stage herself, but she's fresh from an Ivy League drama school, bursting with pretentious and wildly experimental ideas. (Charley's Aunt mustn't be funny! It's a serious exploration into the problem of gender identity! The tea scene? Let's all improvise as animals around a water-hole!) But Susannah can't be fired; she's the daughter of the best friend of our big donor.

And then the staff: there's business-manager Craig with his big rule-book and his obsession for economy in pencils, there's Henry, the nerdy, overworked, under-budgeted designer/techie. And there's Sarah, Gordon's assistant director. This practical lady observes all the mayhem patiently, amusedly, and with the occasional wry sardonic remark. And, by the way, she is Gordon's ex-wife.

Director Don Krull has assembled a first-rate cast. There are many fine performances. Just for the record, the players are:

Gordon Page -- Bill Ellis
Sarah McKay -- Jane Abling
Jack Morris -- Michael McClelland
Richfield Hawksley -- Larry D. Quiggins
Susannah Huntsman -- Kathy Doerr
Tyler Taylor -- Patrick Wells
Mary Pierre -- Amie Bossi
Vernon Volker -- Ray Shea
Daisy Coates -- Marilyn Bass-Hayes
Craig Conlin -- Doug Landholt
Henry Mills Brian -- McCalpin
Karma Schneider -- Amy Price
Brauna Oaks -- Katie Schares

Comedy abounds. The rehearsal of Charley's Aunt is the epitome of silliness. The performance of Dracul is a catastrophe. Everything goes wrong! It's rather in the vein of the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges--and it's a riot. (And the glowing-eyed mechanical bat that flits back and forth across the stage is utterly adorable!)

The performance of Hamlet is rather more restrained--a gentler sort of farce. And in the end we have moments of rather sweet sentiment -- and a warm, happy ending.

The set, by Earl Miller is nicely convincing and admirably flexible--with a beautiful great moon for Dracul. The excellent costumes are by Kathy Doerr and Marie Moore. Chris O'Donovan did the fine (and rather tricky) lighting.

So Laughing Stock at KTK is a most enjoyable evening. It's one flaw is a pervasive slackness in pace. Farce must pile the laughs on top of one another; things have to move fast. Here there was more the sense of a joke . . . and then another joke . . . and then another joke. Too many tiny pauses between or within lines all add up to a three-hour evening, and this is simply too long for a farce. In the Hamlet performance the actors deliver their lines as if the only important thing is to make . . . every . . . syll-able . . . of . . . these . . . sa-cred . . . words . . . per-fect-ly . . . clear. The many scene changes also interrupt the flow; they are really well choreographed, but simply not quite fast enough.

Nevertheless, you'll have a fun and laugh-filled time at KTK's Laughing Stock. It plays at the Southampton Presbyterian Church through May 8.

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