Southern Comfort

“Keep on Laughing” brings a story of mirth and friendship to Chamberlayne Actors Theatre.

Don’t call it a comeback.

Though Paul Elliott’s new play “Keep on Laughing” is a sequel, the cast and crew of the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre production taking the stage this week say the show works as a standalone.

“You don’t have to have seen the first show to enjoy this one,” says director Ann Davis.

CAT staged “Exit Laughing,” Elliott’s earlier play, last summer. Davis directed that outing as well.

“There were a group of four women who, for 30 years, played bridge every Friday night, and that was the highlight of their week,” explains Davis of “Exit Laughing.” “One of the foursome passes away and gives the other three first-class tickets and money for them to travel the world, which she always wanted to do.”

Her friends take an urn of her ashes with them on their globe hopping adventure.

“This play picks up from where they’re coming back from the trip to France,” Davis says. “The play is about the three women and their adventures and what they’re going to do now with the rest of their lives.”

All three of the lead actresses from last year’s show have also returned to their roles. Crystal Oakley, who plays Leona, says the actresses have echoed the show’s characters by staying friends in the interim.

Connie (Cindee Rolston), Leona (Crystal Oakley) and Millie (Laura McFarland-Bukalski) recount their Parisian adventures. Photo credit: Daryll Morgan Studios

“They have gone through ups and downs,” says Oakley of the show’s Alabamian characters. “They’ve lost one of the four that they started out with, and something about their friendship has endured. The only way it has endured is their ability to laugh with and at each other.”

Oakley says her character is the “wild child” of the group.

“She’s quite a drinker. She has never settled down with anyone,” says Oakley. “She’s confident in who she is. She has a lot of liaisons, and for her quantity seems to be more important than quality.”

Before Elliott released the sequel, the cast and crew of “Exit Laughing” enjoyed speculating on what would happen to their characters. They were surprised to learn in “Keep on Laughing” that Connie, the levelheaded character, ends up having a fling with a young man in Paris. In the sequel, the Frenchman surprises Connie by showing up unannounced at her doorstep.

“We never in a thousand years expected him to follow Connie back to the United States, but he does,” Oakley says. “We’re surprised that this could be true love, or that he has come all this way to recapture what they had in Paris.”

Another surprise is that Bobby, a male stripper in “Exit Laughing,” has hung up his G-string for good and married Connie’s daughter. He’s now pursuing a law degree.

Laura McFarland-Bukalski says her character Millie is the silly one in the friend group.

“In the script they say that she is ‘certifiably ditzy,’ but loveable,” McFarland-Bukalski says. “She’s very much in her own little world. She tends to blurt things out, say things before she thinks.”

McFarland-Bukalski says the show’s messages are similar to those of the first play.

“You should live your life to the fullest,” she says. “Your family is who you make it sometimes. There’s some very touching moments in the show, as there were last year, and there’s some laugh out loud ridiculous things.”

Davis says the show is life affirming.

“If you’ve ever wondered if you could try something new, if you could travel and experience and meet new people, then you should come and see the show,” Davis says. “It can be scary, but it can be funny. It’s something we all need to do, to keep on laughing.”

“Keep on Laughing” plays June 7-23 at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, 319 Wilkinson Rd. For more information, visit cattheatre.com.

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