[REVIEW] “Play On!” brings live theater to the West Essex stage

The Masquers of West Essex were back in style with a hilarious production of  “Play On!” by Rick Abbot on Nov. 18-19. This was a significant change in energy from last year’s production of “Vintage Hitchcock,” a performance about a serious and suspenseful murder mystery radio show, and the cast was able to bring a hilarious amount of energy and thrill to their comedic performances.  

As the title implies, “Play On!” places the audience as onlookers behind the scenes of the production of a live stage show, named “Murder Most Foul.” The first act showcases the cast through the rehearsal process, with the second act as a dress rehearsal and the third and final act as the opening night of the show. Watching the rehearsal process was thrilling enough, but the audience is further entertained by a rag-tag group of actors, a stressed-out director,  a disorganized stage manager and the “creative” playwright.

The cast itself is very strong, with a diverse group of students from all four grades taking the stage. Sophomore Lexi Ciardella plays the playwright, Phyllis Montague, whose hilarious one-liners leave the audience erupting in laughter. Senior Claudia Marino plays the show’s director, Gerry, whose stressed-out demeanor keeps the audience engaged. She sits in the house for most of the play, immersing the audience in the world of the show. Other talented castmates include seniors Brandon Klaff, Chloe Bonaguide, Colin Cummings and Jack Bowe, juniors Alyssa Abate and Josie Duva and freshmen Sophie Bonaguide and Binnie Da Rocha. 

The cast executed the script incredibly well, from their comedic timing to their overall delivery. The scenes smoothly transitioned with dialogue that flowed naturally. The performers were entirely immersed in the roles, which made every scene feel realistic. 

One particular scene deep in Act 2 showcases the cast’s skill and comedic timing: Mid-way through a disastrous dress rehearsal, Gerry breaks and snaps at the entire cast of the in-universe play, threatening them with death the next time they make a mistake. In a panic, the entire cast goes through the scene at breakneck speed, rushing from place to space, the words so fast the audience can barely comprehend it. In the rush, one of the actors breaks down into tears after “forgetting” her lines and Gerry soothes both herself and the actors, ending the scene. The amount of talent required to say these lines with such perfection at such a fast pace is challenging, yet the actors made it seem like it’s as natural to them as saying hello.

Other stellar aspects of the show were the costumes and set design. The small set of a single wall and chairs expands to take up the entirety of the stage with complex set pieces like large doors, flowers and a couch as the show goes on.

The costumes show a parallel development as outfits transform from slacks and polos to suits and dresses. 

The auditorium was filled with the audience’s laughter as they were connected to the story. The term “Play On!’ sounds like a cheerful way to tell people to keep doing what they’re doing, and Masquers should definitely keep entertaining the crowds at West Essex.