Vicki Gontz and Paul Keifman know all about stage fright.
It's more than the title of the comic thriller they've been rehearsing for since mid-January. It's a genuine fear that can hit when they're standing on a stage.
Keifman got a role in a high school play but panicked a few weeks into production and quit.
Gontz landed her first role about a decade ago as a member of the chorus in "Cinderella," and said she "shook like a crazy person" onstage.
But those fears are gone. Now, any quaking they do may be from laughter as the actors, joined by fellow Chambersburg Community Theatre member Scott Cairns, entertain each other during rehearsals for "Stage Fright."
The Charles Marowitz play puts drama critic F.F. Charnick (Keifman) in a deadly hot seat. His razor-sharp critiques of actress Mitzi Crenshaw (Gontz) have pushed her over the edge and out of the limelight, and she wants him to pay - with his life.
"It's just newspaper copy, that's all it is," Charnick says in one scene. "I'm not guilty of anything. I just tell it like it is."
Charnick is lured to a television studio, supposedly to help make a documentary about John Wilkes Booth. Instead, he is drugged and kidnapped. When he awakens, he is seated on a Shakespearean throne with a noose around his neck.
Crenshaw's husband, Denis Michaelson (Cairns), tries to talk her out of killing Charnick, even though he has been burned by him, too.
Under the direction of Dick Shoap, the funny, yet scary, play is being staged today through Sunday, March 11, Friday, March 16, and Saturday, March 17, at Capitol Theatre Cultural Arts Center, 159 S. Main St. in Chambersburg, Pa.
Shoap said Marowitz has interesting things to say about criticism and the relationship between actors and critics.
"He unleashes his guns on everybody," said Shoap, 47, a Chambersburg attorney.
"Stage Fright" is meant to entertain and be thought-provoking.
Gontz said the audience should pay close attention because "there's so much subtle subtext."
But Shoap said viewers can also sit back, relax and be entertained.
"It is a show with a lot of laughs, plus a lot of gasps," he said. "We will keep people guessing."
Keifman said his role as Charnick is tough because he sits through three-quarters of the play tied up with a noose around his neck. There is no blocking to help him remember lines.
But Gontz said it hasn't hurt his skills.
"These guys are really good about knowing their lines," said Gontz, 39, of Scotland, Pa. "We rely on each other."
Keifman listens to a tape Gontz made him that includes the other characters' lines so he can chime in at the right times. An electrician, he runs through his lines while driving to work in Frederick, Md.
Gontz, a legal secretary, also finds tapes useful.
As for Cairns, "My wife became my guinea pig," he said, and rehearses with him at home. He also memorizes lines while learning blocking.
The onstage interdependence between Gontz, Cairns, Keifman and Shoap comes from nearly a decade of traveling in the same theatrical circles.
Gontz has played the spouse or love interest of each of the men at some point. Cairns and Keifman did Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine for a Capitol Theatre gala in the late 1990s. Shoap played the lead role under Keifman's direction in "It's a Wonderful Life" in November 1999.
"I'm not sure which I like to do more," Shoap said of acting or directing.
The attraction to theater can be hard to describe.
"I knew I loved it, but I didn't know why," said Keifman, 47, of Chambersburg, reminiscing about his college days.
"A little secret nugget in me always wanted to do it but never did," Gontz said.
For Cairns, acting is an entertaining way to relieve stress.
"It's something that's fun to do," he said.
Acting also helps him professionally.
"You have to entertain when you teach," said Cairns, 51, of Chambersburg, Pa., a professor of accounting at Shippensburg University.