Eccentric playwright makes big promises

San Benito Stage Company presents 'Sing On!' by Rick Abbot. Performances continue Dec. 3-4, 9-10 at the Granada Theatre at 336 Fifth St, Hollister. For more information call, (831) 636-0122, or visit: sanbenitostage.orgPhoto: Robert Eliason

The literary device of a play within a play has a long and rich history extending back to the time of Shakespeare and earlier. It continues in the San Benito Stage Company’s Sidecar production of Rick Abbot’s Sing On!, a sequel to last year’s production of Play On.

The two productions share a cast and a plot: A struggling theater company must put on a wacky play written by an eccentric playwright who dangles the promise of a big financial reward.

The problem, of course, is that the benefactress isn’t much of a playwright, and she meddles constantly with the production.

This time, Phyllis, played with exuberance by Shirley Murphy, wants to tell the story of Queen Elizabeth I, “Good Queen Bess,” to net a donation of $10,000 from a Bess fan club. Of course, the revisionist history that goes on is simultaneously painful and funny.

Complications this time around include a very pregnant actress playing the Virgin Queen, and a husband and wife team (Adrienne Summers and James Swan), given to wearing matching outfits as civilians, who develop head colds so severe before opening night that they cannot hear each other or the other actors on stage, which predictable effect.

At a dress rehearsal performance Tuesday night, the cast, directed by Derek Barnes, worked in an unheated theater with nearly manic enthusiasm. There are some funny moments in the show, with Duane Holt as Saul delivering a stinging series of fat jokes to his evident nemesis, Polly, although Summers is too trim to warrant his zingers, at least until she tries to maneuver a 5-foot-wide farthingale-styled gown through the stage doors. And the second act, in which our intrepid actors actually put on “Chicken Coquettes,” is 45 minutes of total chaos.

Katie Romiti brings a sweetness to the role of the ingenue Smitty, a college student given to bumming rides to the theater. Chris Lasley offers the best projection of the entire cast as Billy, who envisions himself nearly Shakespearean and overemotes at every turn.

Matt Morrison is overwrought as the stage director Jerry, and J. Jesus Jaramillo is a bit of a goofball as Phyllis’s composer nephew, who writes lyrics for the Elizabethan setting set to the music of 19th-century American composer Stephen Foster (“Camptown Races,” “Oh, Susanna”). Jake Edvenson provides excellent musical support at the keyboards.

San Benito Stage Company presents “Sing On!” by Rick Abbot. Performances continue on Dec. 3-4, 9-10 at the Granada Theatre at 336 Fifth St, Hollister. For more information call, (831) 636-0122, or visit: sanbenitostage.org

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