Months before summer hits, actors around the country get busy auditioning for “summer stock” — seasonal theater work. Most summer theaters run in repertory, meaning they’ll have more than one show, switching out sets and costumes, with performers learning multiple roles and performing in more than one show.
Needless to say, throw in a lack of time, a lack of resources, egos and attitudes and you have the makings of a very interesting summer — or at least the makings of a very funny comedy.
Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre is set to open “Laughing Stock,” a comedy about putting on plays and the people who do it.
“People say, ‘Write what you know,’" playwright Charles Morey said in a press release. “After 42 years in the professional theater and 25 summers doing summer stock, I know this world.” Morey’s 42 years also include serving as artistic director for PTC since 1984.
“Laughing Stock,” first produced at PTC in 2001, is a loving homage to his time spent with the Peterborough Players — a professional theater company that performs in a quaint barn-turned-theater and one of the longest-running summer stock theaters in the country.
“Everyone in theater has his or her own ‘playhouse,’” Morey said. “The place where there was never enough of anything: time, staff, money and sometime simply not enough talent or skill; where sometimes the doors fell off their hinges, the sound cues ran backwards and the character man forgot his lines.”
The play is set in a rustic New England summer theater called “The Playhouse,” where the cast and crew are working on a repertory season of “Dracula,” “Hamlet” and “Charley’s Aunt.”
“Some of the things in the play are really things that happened,” said actress Joyce Cohen, who is also married to Morey. “When he worked there and when I worked there, the dressing rooms were in an old cow barn. One time we were all getting ready and somebody smelled something awful and we realized some little creature had gotten in there.”
Cohen laughed while reliving many of the old summer stock stories. “We’ve swapped a lot of horror stories,” she said of the cast. “Those of us who are older have even more stories, of course. And some have famous people in them, so that makes it funnier.”
Since 2001, “Laughing Stock” has been produced close to 100 times around the country. “I think it’s so familiar to audiences as well as actors because we’re human beings and things can go awry. These things happen,” Cohen said. “As it says in the play, a year from now it’ll be quite funny, but at the time it’s just horrifying.
“It’s also fun for audience members who have never acted but have been in the audience and witnessed things that can happen. This is a behind the scenes to what went on to make it go wrong or go right. And it’s very funny.”
Cohen was involved in “Laughing Stock” the first time around. “I’ve enjoyed revisiting it. It’s been so wonderful to see it brought back to life.”
With Morey in his last season as artistic director, both Morey and Cohen look to the next chapter with mixed feelings. “We’re both really excited,” Cohen said. The two have found an apartment in New York City but plan to keep their home in Salt Lake. “I think if we were selling our house, there would be a lot of sadness. We feel like we have so many wonderful friends here and we have loved this community and what’s happening artistically. It’s a new and exciting chapter.”
For now, the focus is on getting the laughs, one last time. “When we did this last time, people were just killing themselves laughing,” Cohen said. “And it also has a lot of heart. I really hope people come see it.”
If you go ...
What: “Laughing Stock”
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East
When: March 23–April 7, times vary
How much: $25-$44
EMAIL: [email protected]