When you name your play Laugh you engender certain expectations. Namely, people will expect to laugh, a lot. When I left Studio theater, I laughed, quite a bit. But I felt that I could have laughed more. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley’s slapstick comedy was entertaining, but did not live up to its name.
The play follows the exploits of Mabel and Roscoe. Recently orphaned, and independently wealthy, Mabel moves in with her greedy aunt. Roscoe, her aunt’s nephew, is tasked with seducing Mabel to control her fortune. However, this official summary is incomplete. Laugh is very much an homage to the silent films and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Mabel and Roscoe bond over films. They quote Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and others. All the films inspires Mabel to become a Hollywood star.
Laugh is first and foremost a slapstick comedy. So expect overacting, physical comedy, and ridiculous situations. However, the laughter produced was more along the lines of chuckles, rather than belly laughs. The humor came more from little quirks, rather than physical comedy. In fact, the funniest bit did not involved the main characters, but rather a minor supporting character. There falls of slapstick are few. The characters seem to realize the ridiculousness of the falls, with Mabel mocking Roscoe.
The six actors were all adept at slapstick. The four supporting actors were especially great, playing multiple characters convincingly. Helen Cespedes (Mabel) and Creed Garnick (Roscoe) has good chemistry, as they played off of each other’s characters.
The play was accompanied by live music — reminiscent of silent films. The pianist also served as a narrator, introducing the play and the second act. Certain touches, such as the opening of the second act, are taken directly from silent films. An nice detail was the running crew, whose antics added to the quirkiness of the play. Apart from the confusing bit before the play, the running crew was amusing, even become part of the set.
The plot started a little slow, and at times it was unclear. The passage of time was vague in the first act. We had no mechanism to determine how long Mabel had been with her Aunt, so it made Mabel’s decision to become a Hollywood actress seem random. However, the plot picks up as the play progresses.
The ending is action-packed, although I found it to be unnecessary. In an interview with Studio Theater Henley said that she “got them in so much trouble that [she] didn’t really know how to get them out.” Because of this, Henley went with a nuclear option. I thought the play could have been resolved in a less extreme manner. However, the would involve changes in the plot of the second act, as the play barrels to the end. The chosen ending does wrap up the plot neatly.
Overall, Laugh is entertaining. You will laugh, and enjoy it. You may leave feeling like you expected more.