Lost Laughs at the MRT

A Tragic Spin on the Rise and Fall of the World’s Most Famous Comedian

In 1921, despite Prohibition, booze flowed freely at parties across the nation as Americans celebrated Labor Day weekend. One such party ended with the death of a multitalented model and actress. The aftermath ruined the career of Fatty Arbuckle, who was at the time was more famous than Charlie Chaplin. The events of that night would change Hollywood forever.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre takes us back to that time in “Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle,” currently playing through March 11. The production is as gorgeous as it is impressive, and as entertaining as it is heart-wrenching.

Photos by Meghan Moore.

“Lost Laughs” tells the tragic tale of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the world’s first movie star and slapstick extraordinaire, whose career ended when he was accused of raping and murdering 25-year-old actress Virginia Rappe. In the play, Arbuckle is revealed as an on-screen genius who charmed millions and an off-screen womanizing alcoholic with a troubled history.

The play incorporates silent films, vaudeville acts, slapstick bits and the dramatic zeitgeist of the 1920s. The simple set bursts to life during colorful romps of slapstick humor that tell heartbreaking stories with delightful wit.

Aaron Muñoz, who co-wrote the show, portrays the larger-than-life Arbuckle. He masters the look, sound and slapstick charm of the vaudeville star. Fans of Arbuckle will be delighted to see his most famous films acted out before them, including the pancake bit from his 1918 film “The Cook.” Muñoz is beyond impressive both in fully encapsulating the character of Fatty Arbuckle while on stage and the impeccable storytelling on display.

The story, with multiple intricate characters, is played by only two actors. Muñoz plays Fatty and Kristen Mengelkoch plays everyone else. Her acting tour de force sees her assuming the roles of Virginia Rappe, Buster Keaton, various friends, journalists, lawyers, lovers and more.

Photos by Meghan Moore.

Mengelkoch’s tender and honest portrayal of Virginia Rappe was deeply moving and had particular resonance given our current cultural climate.

Muñoz explores the “blessing and burden” of being the funny fat guy in his role as Fatty Arbuckle, making us wonder what happens when “the one thing you are supposed to do on this earth gets taken away from you.” Like many classical tragedies, it raises questions of how much we are complicit in our fates and of what happens when the flaws of the powerful impact the lives of those around them.

You can purchase tickets at mrt.org or call the box office at (978) 654-4678.

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