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Theaters roll out dramatic, musical takes on comedy

Lake City Playhouse, Civic Theatre premiere fall productions

Now that the dog days of summer are fading from our seasonal rearview mirror, the local theater scene is buzzing with activity. Tonight alone you’ve got two theatrical premieres to choose from: Lake City Playhouse’s production of the operatic farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” and Civic Theatre’s take on the Southern-fried comedy-drama “Second Samuel.”

“Tenor” is probably the best known of the two shows. It had successful runs on both West End and Broadway, and the latter production received several Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Written by Ken Ludwig, it’s confined to a two-room hotel suite in 1930s Cleveland on the night of a watershed performance by Italian opera tenor Tito Merelli.

It’s in the tradition of classic screwball comedies: Max, the harried assistant to the Cleveland Opera’s manager, is assigned to keep Merelli and his tempestuous wife in line, but everything that could possibly go wrong does – identities are mistaken, motives are misconstrued, and an accidental death complicates things further. And that’s before the body seemingly disappears.

Also set in the past (though decidedly less frantic in its comedic approach) is Pamela Parker’s Pulitzer-nominated “Second Samuel,” a Southern-based charmer that recalls the warm human comedy of “Steel Magnolias.”

Directed by Jhon Goodwin and set in Georgia during the first Truman administration, the show concerns the simple folk of Second Samuel, so named because the town had to be rebuilt after it was burned down during Sherman’s March.

Parker starts her story following the death of Miss Gertrude, a local piano teacher whom just about everyone in town was fond of. They sit around reminiscing about her, the men at the local watering hole (which is also a bait shop) and the women at the beauty salon.

The show does deal with some serious issues, especially the race relations and gender roles of post-WWII America, but its primary focus is Second Samuel and the people who inhabit it. Even as a dark secret from Miss Gertrude’s past emerges and threatens to shake up the sleepy town, “Second Samuel” is a relatively light affair, a loving tribute to small-town hospitality and the simplicity of the past.

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