MANCHESTER — Director Evelyn Welch promises that her cast of "assorted weirdos" will leave the audience rolling in the aisles of the town fire hall this weekend.
The volunteer troupe entertains each other and standing room-only crowds while raising about $1,000 a year for the department.
The Manchester Fire Company and Ladies Auxiliary have sponsored acomedy a year for more than 40 years.
"It all started when we formed kitchen bands, entertaining with pots, pans and spoons," said Vera Kreitzer, president of the Ladies Auxiliary and prompter.
Each year, the company selects a comedy from among several published by Baker's Plays of Boston. The company pays royalties and credits the author.
The call goes out for actors, and rehearsals, usually three nights a week, begin in early January.
"It's a good group and we allknow each other," said Gary L. Eppley, a volunteer fireman. "Most ofus take a part year after year."
Production costs are minimal, Welch said. Costumes for the contemporary plays aren't a problem, and the cast creates the scenery.
Tim Kelly's "Laffing Room Only," thisyear's selection, revolves around the characters inhabiting a dilapidated hotel. Its owner, in arrears on her taxes, is searching desperately for a buyer.
The rooms at Whispering Pines Inn fill rapidly with reluctant guests, stranded after Rondo Muldoon steals a recreational vehicle and wipes out the only bridge in town.
Enter two stateinspectors who, acting on a tip about stolen goods, set up a sting operation at the hotel, hoping to catch a few shady characters.
Theplot thickens, and the laughs follow the appearance of jewel thieves, an heiress, young lovers, a bag lady and long-lost sister, played by Welch.
"It's great slapstick comedy," said Eppley, a tractor-trailer driver who plays Rondo. "We always try to match the person with the part. Guess they figured I would know how to wreck a bridge."
The cast, "all local talent" enjoys the plot machinations so much thehumor becomes infectious, said Kreitzer. For years, the director used to cast now-Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. in the funniest part.
"He's a little too busy right now to act in our plays," she said. "He'll probably come, though."
Marianne Warehime hastaken part in the zany antics since she moved here 18 years ago.
She had to bow out of the 1977 performance when the birth of her youngest child took precedence over the play. The baby is a teen-ager nowand will be in the audience, making faces at his mother, she said.
"I don't have to drag my children here," she said. "They are more than willing to watch mom be silly."
She said the troupe could not call itself a professional acting group, but everyone contributes andworks together well. The comedy is well-suited to the diverse audience, which ranges from children to senior citizens.
"We give it ourbest," said Warehime, who plays a snobby heiress and victim of jewelthieves. "None of us are prima donnas, either. We clown around a lotand enjoy ourselves."
The auxiliary also sells homemade candy, about 75 pounds of chocolate and vanilla fudge, at each performance.
The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $3 for adults and $2 for children. Information: 374-9555.