Laughing Stock at AE

Variety stimulates—and John Cobb, board president of Artists’ Ensemble, proudly announces that the four plays for the season have never been performed in Rockford. The first, Laughing Stock, opened Sept. 7 in the Maddox Theatre at Rockford College. Running only one more weekend until Sept. 16, you’ll have to hustle if you want to see a boisterous group of actors striving to create theater in a barn.

Martin McClendon’s excellent set fills the stage and provides the arena for 15 actors to enter and leave at a breathtaking pace. Not since Lend Me a Tenor has so much movement occurred. Stephen F. Vrtol III is Gordon Page, the artistic director of a summer theater consisting of veterans, apprentices, designers and crew, many of whom would prefer to be somewhere else.

Christian Gray, making his debut here, gives Dracula a whole new meaning. Epitomizing the actor determined to direct, his interpretations of the work are the nightmare of every director. Gary Wingert is Richfield Hawksley, a lifelong veteran of the stage, trying desperately to remember his lines. His scene with David Gingerich when his prop, a letter with all the pertinent information is missing, is one of perfect comedic timing. Jenniel Wright gives one of her best performances ever. As Claire Craig, the business manager of a company in serious financial trouble, her monologue on the office supply rules recalls times in all our lives when the budget becomes dominant.

Josh Raether, Nick Howard and David Mortenson are the apprentices. Hoping for their big break, they tote, haul and operate the often-defective curtains and props. Richard Raether stages well. With a cast of 15, the sheer magnitude of keeping everyone in their place challenges.

Since its inception, Artists’ Ensemble has made financial stability one of its main goals. Subscriptions are critical. Raether announced that the season begins with full houses. Their corporate sponsor for the season is Savant, and Insight is their media sponsor. Theater exists with the support of business and a loyal audience.

Call (815) 394-5004 for information and tickets.

from the Sept. 12 – 18, 2007, issue

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