Laughing Stock

This behind-the-scenes portrayal of community theatre might just hit a little too close to home.

By Andrew Andrews

Mike Clark, Justin Doro, Joe Bongiorno and Molly Feibel in Charles Morey’s Laughing Stock, directed by Tom Bunker at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. Original photos by Rachel Karashay.

The Playhouse summer theatre, operating out of an ancient barn in New Hampshire, is gearing up for its repertory season of Hamlet, Charley’s Aunt, and a new take on Dracula by Artistic Director Gordon Page.

Assisted by new director Susannah Huntsman—who, like most of their directors, was chosen solely because Susannah’s mother went to school with the company’s largest benefactor—Gordon auditions a series of quirky actors with mismatched outlooks and expectations.

Comic mayhem ensues between and during the performances as each actor manifests their ego in different ways, providing the audience with a behind-the-scenes look at the world of community theatre.

Despite the hard-hitting loss of The CENTER’s beloved Artistic Director Kevin Archambault to illness just last month, the venue has managed to carry on and deliver a much-needed dose of laughter.

Perhaps there’s no better way to honor Kevin than with a story allowing his “work family” to share their subculture, to which he dedicated his life.

Jessie Truin, Chantez Engeleit, Joshua Exra and Brandon Argento (shown L-R) join Howie Riggs, Michael Juzwak, Ronnie Joseph, Madison Anthony, Kaylee Elia-Mercado, Jon Cado, Elizabeth Drew and Brian Cordella (not pictured) in rounding out the CenterStage Productions cast.

Laughing Stock provides the perfect wake for a theatre professional.

The lackluster first act exposes the day-to-day drudgery and personality conflicts between a collection of attention-seeking egoists, but after intermission, the play-within-a-play (Dracul) rewards the audience with laugh after laugh after laugh, due to the fictional Playhouse’s incompetent delivery of an already-awful script.

Regarding this specific production, there’s something “meta” to watching a farce about a community theatre performed by a community theatre, in sometimes trying to guess which of the stumbles are intentional and which are not!

Wrapping up, Laughing Stock explores the personal reward to keeping The Playhouse alive, the motivation that compels a dedicated staff to trudge forward against conflicting forces under an always-inadequate and constantly-threatened budget.

At one point a character remarks, “you really gotta be on stage to understand it,” and I’ve no doubt there are parts of this story that will never quite resonate with those of us who only know theatre from its seats.

Nonetheless, there’s so much for the audience to enjoy that you owe it to yourself to sit through the slow moments to reap its highlights, and to benefit from the healing effect of laughter during bereavement.

Because even when we suffer a tremendous loss, the show must go on.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kevin Archambault.

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Andrew Andrews attended Laughing Stock at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck on Sunday, February 6, 2022 @ 3:00pm to write this review.