As board members at the Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick, Lloyd Felix and Jim Belanger did the curtain speech prior to “Exit Laughing” last Friday night. They chatted up the audience and reminded us about the shows coming up this season. And then they talked about the show we were there to see.
“I’m sure you’ll get a few laughs,” Belanger hopes.
I guess Belanger believes in the concept of undersell and over-deliver. There are more than a few laughs in this production.
Meet Connie, Leona and Millie, three ladies who’ve been playing bridge every week for the past 30 years. Their fourth member, Mary, recently passed away. The ladies are gathering for the first time since Mary’s funeral, but not to worry, Mary will be there.
On the way to the card game, the somewhat ditzy Millie stops by the funeral home and picks up the urn filled with Mary’s ashes, and the fun begins. The show reminded me a bit of “The Golden Girls.”
Connie (Karen Gail Kessler) is a divorcee and single mom to Rachel (Jenson Tavares). Millie (Sharon Johnson) is a widow. Leona (Lynda DiStefano) is the wild one in the bunch, boasting a variety of conquests. And Mary (played by the tackiest urn in the history of the world) was the free spirit of the group.
Connie and Leona worry that Millie’s actions – she didn’t just “stop by” the funeral home, she actually broke in – are going to get them all in trouble. Finally, they agree to play one last game, with Mary’s urn sitting in the fourth spot at the card table.
Of course, the cops do show up at the end of the first act. Rather, one cop (Graham Stokes) shows up, but is he a cop? Don’t let me spoil that fun. But strap in, because the second act is a wild ride chockful of double entendres.
Kessler, DiStefano and Johnson are a great trio. Kessler’s Connie is often the straight man, setting others up for their punch lines, and she plays that well.
Johnson’s Millie has the naivete of Betty White’s Rose – remember, “The Golden Girls?” – and Johnson plays it perfectly.
DiStefano’s Leona has some of the best lines in the show. In describing Millie, she says, “Her car doesn’t always run on a full tank.” After witnessing Rachel’s meltdown, she says, “That girl’s on her own private roller coaster.” And in the second act, DiStefano achieves a perfect spit tank.
And buried in the show – just below the surface, not buried too deeply – is Mary’s message to her friends about living life to the fullest so they too can exit laughing.
“Exit Laughing” is a fun way to spend an evening, giving you the chance to leave your worries in the parking lot for a couple of hours anyway.
[“Exit Laughing” runs through March 13 at the Arctic Playhouse in the heart of West Warwick. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401-573-3443 or visit www.thearcticplayhouse.com.]