OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Entering the theater, an usher shows arriving patrons a cover of a printed program and says, “First act.” The usher then flips the program, bottom to top, and says, “Second act.”

First act cover: “Oshkosh Community Players… Drop Dead! A Farce.” In small type are the playwrights’ names – Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore.

Second act cover: “Weisenheimer Theatre Presents: Drop Dead.” At the bottom: “Directed by Victor Le Pewe, Produced by P.G. Banks, Written by Alabama Miller.”

Inside the stunt program are two sets of biographies. One set is the truth. The other is comical – phony bios of the characters in the goofy “Weisenheimer Theatre” production that a sillily slipshod theater company is preparing.

The audience at The Grand Oshkosh sees, first, the dress rehearsal for a theatrical concoction about a British murder mystery. The director is a martinet just out of therapy, and his cast members display a wide assortment of personality disorders. This is all for the sake of haywire comedy. The playwright also is on hand – teed off that her precious 500-something page script is clipped down to 18 pages.

Act II is opening night of the play, very much changed and with the playwright infusing herself into the action with lofty monologues that had been cut. Psychosis erupts in the company, and characters end up getting shot and killed as if for real (an iffy bit of humor for this comedic play).

The audience knows both stories are shoddy. This is on-purpose, wobbly-wheel stuff for laughs. For-real director Ambre Neuser-Gajewski has her players throwing themselves into their over-the-top characters with full over-the-topness. Overacting to the level of OVERACTING is achieved.

Lobby display of cast. (Abbi Dusing photography)

Here are a few bits that happen:

+ The role of an aged mother is played by a stone-deaf actress (portrayed by Anne Caylor), who provides triple trouble by not knowing her lines or where to be. The rehearsal is total turmoil, including some earthy moments with sight gags as the character is plopped on a sofa with her legs askew. In the second act, the character is outfitted with a hearing device for line cues, but the channel is set so the audience hears what she is told. And then she speaks action cues and confuses everyone. And then the director (Dalton Zanin), dressed and bewigged as the character, forces his way into the action to replace her.

+ The role of the British butler (Adam Baurain) in the rehearsal flips to being French in the second, and each time there is much wild physical kind-of gymnastics flopping about.

+ One running joke is the character of an “elite” actor (Justin Drabek) can never correctly say the name of his stage wife (Madysen Schmidt), and “Penelope” comes out as “Pen a lope” and dozens of other variations along the way.

+ Another running joke is the stage manager (Nate Scheuers) does everything at the drop of the hat – build the set for $35, cue lines, fix broken set parts, handle an actor’s chewing gum, search out errant actors – all for love… that goes off the rails.

Tons of jokes and goofball situations load this show. It’s a formula thing – behind-the-scenes shabby play group puts on a perfectly messed-up performance – that’s been done in a bunch of variations. The Oshkosh Community Players ensemble cranks up the energy level all around.

***

Running time: One hour, 56 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. May 27; 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 28

Info: thegrandoshkosh.org

Creative: Playwrights – Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore; director – Ambre Neuser-Gajewski; stage manager – Austin Borgardt; set designers – Ambre Neuser-Gajewski, Cameron Fails; prop master – Kylie Montee; sound designers – Andy Birchfield, Aubrey Parrish; lighting designers – Tom Hanson, Nate Scheuers; fight choreographer – Abbi Dusing; lightboard operator – Josiah Dempsey; soundboard operator – Quinton Kingswan; photographer – Abbi Dusing

Cast (in no particular order)

Dick Scorsese – Brian Zimmerman

Chaz Looney – Adam Baurain

Constance Crawford – Anne Caylor

Candy Apples – Madysen Schmidt

Brent Reynolds – Justin Drabek

Alabama Miller – Debbie Ransbottom

Phillip – Nate Scheuers

Victor LePewe – Dalton Zanin

P.G. Banks – Booras

Mona Monet – Aubrey Parrish

***

THE VENUE: Located at 100 High Ave. in Oshkosh, the 550-seat Grand Opera House is one of Wisconsin’s showcase surviving theaters. Built for live performance well before the arrival of movies, the theater opened Aug. 9, 1883. Designed by architect William Waters, the building reflects the opulence of the era and the strength of Oshkosh at the time. Roman influences abound in columns and support elements. Ceiling and wall artistry is elaborately detailed. A portrait of William Shakespeare above the stage gives the impression he is overseeing everything. See thegrandoshkosh.org/history for details on the theater’s rich history and ongoing challenges. When you are there, wander around the building – up and down stairways and in and around nooks and crannies – and savor the details along with vintage photos and displays. For instance, in the balcony are elaborate sections everywhere. In the rear ceiling are rectangles fringed by flowers and vines. The largest rectangle includes a crossing pattern with a square at the center that’s angled like a diamond. In the front ceiling, a crossing pattern in the central square leads to a circle which depicts cherubs at play, one riding a fly. The top edge on side walls is curved, with images being a series of potted trumpet vines interspersed with maize. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The building is owned by and receives financial support from the City of Oshkosh.