DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Back biting, jealousy and bungling are just starters for the comedic rip of “Play On!”, which takes the hide off amateur theater just for laughs.

Evergreen Productions of greater Green Bay is having at the play that is just one of 83 cranked out by a play-writing machine. Rick Abbot must have drawn on experience for his tease of what-can-go-wrong-will in community theater.

A kind of relentlessness is part of the experience of “Play On!” Director Mike Ajango’s players consistently throw themselves into the fray, which unfolds three times.

First, four days remain before the opening of the new play, “Murder Most Foul.” The troupe has a deal on the rights – free. Problem: The playwright feels she’s free to make script changes galore at this late stage. Another problem: Not everybody in the cast knows his or her lines. Plus, a wise guy in the troupe feels free to make lippy comments about the leading lady, notably about her poundage. Plus, the players know they’re working with a clinker, as one notes: “Some of the mistakes tonight are better than the original lines.” The director is constantly putting out wildfires – the stuff of the back biting, jealousy and bungling.

Second, the production is in dress rehearsal. The set and players are dressed, and Evergreen Productions’ production takes on good-looking looks for what is to be a British murder mystery the fictional troupe is putting on. The meddling playwright is still a presence, with changes still in mind. One change has to do with the title, which she has neglected to find out has been used before. And, at this late stage, actors have questions about such things as the plot and character motivations. The director gets angry, causing the players to get stressed and whip through their lines at warp speed.

Third, it’s opening night. Forgotten lines are still forgotten. The suspenders of the leading male hang beneath his evening coat. Another fellow tears the shoulder of his coat on the door jam during his entrance. The fellow playing the culprit seems tipsy and carefree. The playwright is in the audience… before slipping on stage to fix a piece of business that a crewman forgot. The players, lost in all the mistakes, make up lines and situations.

This is all quite ridiculous, of course. And on purpose.

Credit the cast for knowing what to do and how in this crazy quilt of muddling. There’s teamwork at every turn.

Alphabetically, Brent Brayko is the desperate director, Frankie Breit is the lordly patriarch, Lucas Brunette is the player who falls in love with his stage partner, Megan Carpenter is the egotistical leading lady, Grace Heine is the high schooler worried about her homework, Erin Hunsader is the inane playwright, Nikolai Kramer is the wiseapple troublemaker, Gus Kroenke is the put-upon backstage guy trying to be two places at once, Mary Spencer is the backstage messer-upper and Raechal Wozniak-Sanford is the forever forgetful player and other half of the love story.

These descriptions are embarrassingly shallow, given all the effort each player has put into his or her role. There’s a lot of color all around.

Now, a couple of by-the-ways:

The play has been updated over time. The present form includes the backstage crewperson using a computer tablet to cue effects. Rick Abbot died in 1992, prior to the existence of tablets.

“Murder Most Foul” is a real title. Bob Dylan song title aside, it was used in one of a series of delightful movies from the 1960s starring Margaret Rutherford as the Agatha Christy character Miss Marple.


Running time: Two hours, 22 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. May 19-21; 2 p.m. May 22


Creative: Playwright – Rick Abbot; director – Mike Ajango; assistant director – Rochelle Van Erem; stage manager – Madelyn Glosny; costume designer – Janet Ajango; lighting designer – Jack Rhyner; sound designer/operator – Tony Brunette; set designer – Warren Elliott; set dresser – Rochelle Van Erem; master carpenter – Warren Elliott; property master – Judy Patefield; hair/make-up designer – Lois Gegare; production coordinator – Jeremy Pelegrin

Cast (in order of appearance):

Al Manville – Gus Kroenke

Jerry Dunbar – Brent Brayko

Henry Benish (Lord Dudley) – Frankie Breit

Polly Benish (Lady Margaret) – Megan Carpenter

Marla “Smitty” Smith (Doris, the Maid) – Grace Heine

Saul Watson (Dr. Rex Forbes) – Nikolai Kramer

Billy Carewe (Stephen Sellers) – Lucas Brunette

Violet Imbry (Diana Lassiter) – Raechal Wozniak-Sanford

Loise Peary – Mary Spencer

Phyllis Montague – Erin Hunsader


THE VENUE: The 190-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee of the airline. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had many friends in the greater Green Bay community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.