11“No, Florence, no, not another one of your episodes,” Jonathan Judge-Russo says.

Judge-Russo, dressed in a vest over his street clothes and knee pads, stands at the edge of the rehearsal space at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. Amber French flutters over to him, mid-panic attack that her character Florence is supposed to be having. Judge-Russo digs into his pocket and reveals a small, silver tin for pills, the kind that men might have carried at the turn of the century and might still be found in old ladies’ purses. He pops it open and grabs an imaginary pill.

“Here, take one of your pills,” he says, two of his fingers pinched together. He picks up his hand and pretends to throw a pill into French’s mouth. She walks back to the middle of the room, falls to the floor and screams hysterically until she calms down.

“Well done, Florence. There, there.” Judge-Russo says.

Director Laura Josepher stands looking over the binder containing her script. She gives directions to Judge-Russo and French. She wants to see more of a reaction from French and a visual moment of her swallowing the tiny pill just chucked into her mouth.

“The reaction is good, but just to help me know, it got in there,” she says to French. French and others laugh a little. She mimics a mouth open and, suddenly, a very visible swallow. With a nod, she and the others begin the scene again with no less vigor than the first time.

In a short time, from September 7 to 24, The Play That Goes Wrong will take the stage at Cape Fear Regional Theatre, and each of the actors wants to make sure they get it going wrong in precisely the right way. Judge-Russo is playing Thomas Colleymoore and also Robert, an actor playing Thomas. French plays Sandra, an actor playing the character Florence Colleymore. This is a play within a play, Josepher explained.

In the rehearsal room, Josepher moves from the pill scene to another play segment. This time, Mitchell Stephens, playing both Chris the actor and his character Inspector Carter, enters the rehearsal space. Stephens has the unique job of being both the actor of this play within a play and the fight/movement coordinator for the show.

The Play That Goes Wrong is about a play, The Murder of Havershsam Manor, going from “bad to utterly disastrous” and gives the comedic vibes of Gene Wilder with accident-prone actors and a corpse that has a hard time remembering to play dead. Stephens’ coordinator role is integral to the comedic timing.

“Every moment has to be pretty live,” Judge-Russo says. “… I think everybody has shown up from moment one … and brought their game real hard.”

All the other actors shake their heads in agreement. That game is one of farce and comedic timing. Stephens, very vocal and comedic in his own right, speaks about the genuine collaboration and power of the actors in the play.

“We then all celebrate every laugh that happens,” Stephens says. “Instead of it being each one of us jockeying for who gets the biggest laugh or the best one, it now becomes a laugh as something to celebrate ... getting super not precious with our bits and our gags.”

Stephens says each actor will strip out jokes to serve the collective laughs in the play better. Each one creates what they call a true ensemble to bring comedy to the Cumberland County community.

“Farce is hard,” Josepher says. “It is such specific timing. There’s so many moments in the show … the world is a tough place that [it’s nice to have] an evening of just laughing.”

Tickets for the play are available at CFRT.org and include special pricing for the military on September 13 and Teachers on September 15. The folks at the theatre will also host a Welcome Back Bash on September 7 and Murder Mystery Trivia on September 8. Visit www.CFRT.org for more details.

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