Little Theater of Alexandria Stages ‘Laughing Stock’

Little Theater of Alexandria Stages ‘Laughing Stock’

This play-within-a-play comedy promises tons of chuckles.

From left:  Tom Flatt as Vernon Volker, Ted Culler as Richfield Hawksley, Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris, and Abigail Ropp as Mary Pierre.

From left: Tom Flatt as Vernon Volker, Ted Culler as Richfield Hawksley, Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris, and Abigail Ropp as Mary Pierre. Contributed by Matthew Randall

The Little Theater of Alexandria (LTA) is staging "Laughing Stock," a play-within-a-play, from Sept. 5-26.

The show gives audiences a backstage look at a ragtag troupe of actors and their backstage mischief as they attempt to stage three repertory productions: "Hamlet," "Charley’s Aunt," and "Dracula." This show is a humorous testament to theaters everywhere that never seem to have enough time, staff, money, or talent to pull off the show — but in the end, the show must go on.

Director Shawn G. Byers decided to direct the play because of fond memories of having worked in summer stock theater at Weathervane Playhouse in Ohio. "I love 'Laughing Stock,’ not only because it brings back such wonderful memories of Weathervane; but also because it manages to be wildly funny and really touching and sweet all at the same time," he said.

His goal was to make the show funny and appealing to all audiences, he said: "One of the issues, sometimes with backstage farces, is that they can get a little too insular. So I wanted to make the humor accessible."

Co-Producer Jamie Blake had produced "Plaza Suite" for Shawn in 2014, so this is an encore performance; and co-producer Becky Patton wanted the chance to work with an established director and learn more about how he puts together great theater.

"This show is pure fun," said Patton. "It's a theater person's show — anyone who has ever been involved in theater will see something of themselves, and anyone who hasn't will now understand a little more about what goes on back stage."

Will MacLeod plays the role of Tyler, an actor who takes himself a little too seriously and thinks he's God's gift to the proscenium. "I'd like to think I don't relate to him very much but that may be up to other people to decide," he said.

He said the challenge is trying to make his character likeable when he's kind of an annoying jerk most of the time. "Shawn (the director) has been helping me try to show the parts of the character that show he's an insecure guy that's trying to hide that behind a pompous exterior," he said.

Tom Flatt plays the role of Vernon, a bitter 30-year veteran who never quite hit the big time. "I like his wit and although I'm not bitter, I appreciate his frustration (as all actors do)," he said.

As far as challenges, he said, “Shawn (the director) has a good eye for helping me strike a balance so that Vernon is not mean. He's just honest. It's always tricky to pull off that balance when the character says some awful things."

Ted Culler plays the role of Richfield, a lovable elder statesman of the theater group who is having memory issues. "Like Richfield, I have reached senior status and have to work a little harder than I used to work to learn my lines and remember blocking," he said. "But in spite of that, like Richfield, I love theater and want to continue as long as directors allow me to be on stage."

As far as challenges, he said the biggest is keeping his character's reactions believable. "Because this is farce and my character is often confused, it's easy to over do it and become a caricature," he said. "Shawn encourages us to explore, go big, and play with our roles with the understanding that he will rein us in if we go too far."

Abigail Ropp plays the role of Mary, the classic ingénue type. "She's a little self-centered, but without much of an ego, which I think makes her likeable and fun, even when you're rolling your eyes at her," she said.

For challenges, she said it's a very physical show, and she's a very cerebral actor: "So while I can think through and visualize every move and decide what's funny and what's not in a very intellectual sense, getting my body to project the idea in my head is always one of my actor challenges," she said.

Hilary Adams plays the role of Karma, one of the playhouse interns. "I think she and I share the hope that in the theater we'll find people just as dysfunctional and neurotic as we are, and they'll love us for it, not in spite of it," she said. "We're both looking for a family of people, however temporary, that understand us."

For challenges, she said she decided Karma was coming to the playhouse to get away from her parents who are going through a big ugly divorce, and her journey in this show takes her from not necessarily trusting adults to being more comfortable around them, as well as in her own skin.

Larry Grey plays the role of Craig Conlin, the accountant, business manager, producer and the voice of reason in a sea of dreamers. "I believe my character sees himself as the protector of the group," he said. "He takes on the reality so they can dream their dreams, and guides them to realistically achieving the dream."

He said he has to try hard not to make Craig cranky or cynical, just practical. "One thing the director did was devote an entire evening to character development with each member of the cast individually. It not only helped us to dig deep and see our character, develop a back story, but understand Shawn's (the director) vision, which is vital to bringing the show to life," he said.

Lars Klores plays the role of Gordon Page, the artistic director of the Playhouse. "He's desperately trying to hold things together while they inevitably fall apart around him," he said.

His biggest challenge was learning the entire script, in which he's in every scene but one, in two weeks. "Our performances are now able to really deepen with the scripts out of our hands," he said.

Brian Selcik plays the role of Braun Oakes, an apprentice at the summer Playhouse. "I relate to my character because he is very energetic and is trying a new thing, which is what I like to do," he said. "It's really fun to play him because I do feel like he changes throughout the show, so it's fun and challenging to work with that."

Melissa Dunlap plays the role of Sarah, the stage manager who attempts to organize the chaos of the cast and crew. "At home and at work, I am always trying to manage the chaos," she said. "Sometimes I am more successful than at others."

As far as challenges, she said Sarah is fairly guarded and sarcastic, but she has some vulnerable moments. "Those vulnerable moments are special and a bit tricky to get right," she said.

The Little Theater of Alexandria is staging "Laughing Stock," from Sept. 5-26. Show times are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are $19-$22. The venue is located at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit