COHORT REPORT: Peeling back the mask

“We like to remember people who go first,” as a character says in the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s new production “Lost Laughs,” a show about comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. He was the first movie actor to rise to stardom, but he’s remembered now, if at all, for the part he played in a young actress named Virginia Rappe’s tragic death.

The play tells the story of Fatty’s rise and fall, moving adeptly between broad, vaudevillian comedy and heartbreaking moments of tragedy. The tropes of silent film are given a nod throughout, to great effect. Particularly striking is the story of Fatty’s first marriage, which is told in a silent routine involving a clothes line.

Much of the action takes place on what looks like a raw film set before the props and backdrops are added. It is eventually pulled back to show first the red curtain of a stage and ultimately, the hotel room where Virginia spent her last night. Once the disheveled room is revealed, it seems to stalk Fatty like a character in its own right, looming behind his attempts to clear his name and move on with his life.
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Kristen Mengelkoch in LOST LAUGHS… Photo by Meghan Moore.
Aaron Muñoz plays Fatty with considerable charm and his lone costar Kristen Mengelkoch is a whirlwind, effortlessly switching between an array of minor characters from Buster Keaton to a fan on the street.

Throughout the play, characters reference the artifice that defines Fatty’s life. The public loves him and gives him the validation he never received as a child–but they don’t love Roscoe. One of the play’s most devastating moments comes when Roscoe is literally stripped, and must stand before us to be judged, without his jovial alter ego to keep him safe.

Mengelkoch gets her own turn to break our hearts in a monologue as Virginia Rappe. And both come together for an ending that is as quiet and beautiful as the opening scene is frantic and funny. I left feeling truly moved by the experience.

–Amy Roeder, Cohort

 

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Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11

www.mrt.org/lostlaughs

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COHORT REPORT: Silence and Reality of Film and Stage

The days of vaudeville into silent films was filled with images of actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. “Fatty” was a comedian, director and screen writer who earned, and lost, millions during the golden age of jazz and silent films.

The MRT rehearsals for Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle presented an artistic challenge for the crew and actors. There was much involved to bring silent film slapstick into a creative production on the stage. You will see the amazing results by a very talented designer crew, Director Nathan Keepers, playwright Andy Bayiates (born in Lowell) and appreciate the era stunningly performed by playwright and actor Aaron Muñoz, and actor Kristen Mengelkoch.

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Aaron Muñoz and Kristen Mengelkoch in LOST LAUGHS… Photo by Meghan Moore.

 

Slapstick comedy is a fun-filled cascade of stunts and mayhem that require physical endurance. Fatty was portly, which he used as the image for his comedic creativity doing tumbles, jumps, chases with innocent looks and smiles. There are moments of “talking” by background music to reflect the theme and pace of the story. If you know Keystone Kops you know the comedy of Fatty Arbuckle.

Few knew and loved both Roscoe the man and Fatty the actor better than his wife. Yet, it was a wild time so being married was a struggle they lost. Fatty had popularity as a performer and enjoyed the wild lifestyle of the rich and famous. It was the twenties during prohibition, and Fatty and his friends knew how to party. When he held a weekend raucous party in a hotel with large quantities of liquor for his many friends, there was an incident that changed Fatty’s life forever.

You may know, Fatty was accused in the death of a young woman, but not the details of that evening and beyond. The trials depleted his funds then, sadly, he could no longer get anyone to laugh and his career was destroyed. MRT will bring you back to that time when the coverage of the story and public reaction was fierce, and Fatty was seen as a human being with a voice, rather than a silent slapstick on a screen.

–Gail Gauthier, Cohort

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Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11

www.mrt.org/lostlaughs

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