By Joseph Szalinski
Nothing’s more powerful than friendship — well, maybe good liquor. Or so would argue Leona, one of the characters in The Red Barn Players’ production of Exit Laughing at The Red Barn Theatre in Fombell, PA. Directed by the talented Shelly Cary, from a script by Paul Elliott, this zany and heartwarming production boasts perhaps the bawdiest bridge club to ever play the game.
The show begins with Connie Harland (Susan L. Brown) being subjected to her daughter Rachel’s (Julianna Mistovich) rant about her date who stood her up. Enter the aforementioned Leona (Susan Allardice) stopping by to drink Connie’s house dry while lamenting the recent loss of their friend, Mary. Things get hilariously bizarre when another friend, Millie (Sue Ann Aiken), shows up with a stolen urn full of their recently deceased companion. A surprise visit from “the police” ends the first act. From there, the story finds its footing as it segues into its stronger second half where characters are fleshed out and everything is brought to a very fitting resolution.
Strong performances from the entire cast, especially the trio of friends, were the highlight of this show. Susan L. Brown delights as Connie, the host of this chaotic comedy. She brings a tempered attitude to her role that anchors everything, demonstrating the free spirit pacified by responsibility and mistreated by circumstance.
Likewise, Susan Allardice plays a phenomenally sardonic former dancer and current booze enthusiast whose penchant for the latter lends itself to her soured attitude. Instead of being limited by the source material, she elevates the character with a dogged persistence despite any damage she may have done to herself. She reveals a secret sadness that less capable performers wouldn’t notice.
Completing the “Three Mouseketeers” is Sue Ann Aiken as Millie, the absent-minded comic relief who ends up masterminding most of the unorthodox shenanigans in the show. She has an infectious energy that really propels the narrative and encourages her castmates to succumb to the fun of acting in such a wacky production. Even the few stalled lines she soldiered through came off as quirks of a character she embodies so well.
Julianna Mistovich makes even the grumpiest character a joy to see on stage. Her portrayal allows Rachel’s arc in act 2 to seem genuine, adding dimension to someone the writer slightly underdeveloped.
Eli Peel dazzles as Bobby, the aspiring psychologist who likes to stand up dates and get down on the dance floor. His ability to balance Bobby’s humor and sensitivity helped him stand out as much as his raucous routine when he’s first introduced.
My only real note was on the technical front. In act one, there’s a moment where a phone continually rings. It’s one of those gags that could’ve shaved off a couple seconds and still managed to be just as funny. Otherwise, the technical aspects were great! The set, Connie and Rachel’s living room, had a personality like the characters who hung out in it; it seemed lived in. The lighting and sound, while not incredibly dynamic, was steady and consistent, which helped establish things more thoroughly. There was even an amusing implementation of the TV screen near the end of the play.
A really reactive audience greatly complemented this well show, as did the unorthodox venue. Physical space has an unrecognized influence over such things, and the folks from The Red Barn Players know how to play to its strengths and remind the Greater Pittsburgh area that fantastic theatre is nestled in the picturesque hills of Fombell.
Exit Laughing continues its run June 8-10 & 15-17 at The Red Barn Theatre, 1279 Rte. 288 Fombell, PA, 16123. For more information, click here.