Pardon my southern accent, but I just finished eating a Dixie Cup . . . that's an old Red Skelton joke, but it works in well with a review of the play Second Samuel presented by Tacoma Little Theatre. The play's a sweet little dessert to finish off the day. It has a nice aftertaste that leaves you wanting more.
Combining elements of Mayberry's Andy and Opie Taylor, along with the homespun moral compass of Atticus and To Kill a Mockingbird, it delivers a message that leaves you laughing and thinking. It's a perfect play to watch and consider our changing and shrinking world.
The play was written by Pamela Parker. Like Bob Newhart she was first an accountant before turning to writing. She grew up in a small Georgia town. She was raised by grandparents who told stories of the rural south. Eventually she began writing short stories and then turned to one-act plays and then came Second Samuel. The play begins as a monologue as a "simple" young man begins to share a Garrison Keillor-ish story of his hometown. "Everyone on stage is someone in my family, and some of the stories that are told are not altogether a lie," reveals Ms. Parker.
The play is about the people living in a small town (late 1940s)and dealing with the death of Miss Gertrude, a beloved citizen, and her funeral reception.
My sister Deedee saw the play on Thursday night and told me about the set. The center is Miss Gertrude's front porch. The left half the stage is a beauty salon where the women gather and gossip and the right side is a bar room where they men sit around swapping lies. With lighting and action the audience's attention ping pongs from one side to the other.
Parker says, "We did readings and readings and more readings, and I had a bunch of theater people tell me it wouldn't work, the way the stage is laid out, the way it's told, but I could see it," she said. "Once it started forming itself, I could see it clearly in my mind and I knew it would work." It works well.
Second Samuel has nothing to do with the Bible. General Sherman and the Yankees burned down the first town of Samuel on their march to the sea. When it was rebuilt, it became the "second" Samuel.
The story is told by B Flat, played by Aaron Mohs-Hale. Aaron last appeared in the Lakewood Playhouse production of A Few Good Men. B Flat is a "simple" lad, but his character is not. I prefer to think of him as uncomplicated. He tells the tale with his heart. His observations are true. His best friend is a "colored" man, US, played by Jimmy Shields.
Shields as US did a really good job with the development of his character. US zigzags around prejudice and sidesteps when he needs to . . . making his life work for him, his family and friends. Often during action elsewhere your eye will be drawn to his portrayal as he reacts to comments and events.
Shields has been in a Motown review before, so I hope he'll be cast in Smokey Joe's Café, the last play this season at Tacoma Little Theatre.
Prejudice emanates from the character of Mr. Mozel, played by Tom Birkeland. I would think the only thing that would keep Mr. Mozel from igniting a fiery cross on someone's lawn would be the fact that he's in a wheelchair, which would require some effort. If someone has a bad thing to say, it's usually going to be said by grumpy Mr. Mozel; to drag the cross as he wheels through the grass.
If something judgemental and critical is said, it's a cinch that Mr. Mozel said it; however, being portrayed as an "Oscar the Grouch" makes him more easily tolerated.
The theatrical venues and crowd of Tacoma/Pierce County owe their continued success to Birkeland's efforts on our behalf over the last fifty-some years. From little theater to equity productions we owe a Bravo to Tom Birkeland, a spirited theater arts advocate.
Much of the humor in the play revolves around Bait and Beer store's bartender/owner Frisky and his wife Omaha. When she calls on the phone, US answers and holds out the phone to Frisky, who is gesturing "no, no . . . I'm not here . . ." He then takes the call and is all lovey-dovey with his wife.
Frisky is not above giving away free drinks to learn certain secrets or to withhold paid drinks and upping the price to get his own way. When you own the only whiskey outlet within ten miles, you hold sway.
In a small town, everyone has secrets.
Kerry Bringman's Frisky looks like he could keep secrets told, but would probably blurt them out to his wife if she asked.
Good gossip once set loose can't be hidden long.
In this pivotal scene, a screeching and gesturing Omaha, played by Diana George, excitedly shares her news. It's gossip and is it good!
I wish each of the women actors could have projected a bit more. They've all appeared in various productions around the area, so this was unexpected. Perhaps, the separated stage affected them; however, Diana's Omaha certainly commanded attention as she shared her secret.
In a small town you would expect people to stay true to their form, but in reality, not always. People can change even in the face of the unknown, and this gives us hope. The world changes and we must adapt, even though some things are well beyond our comfort zones. We must rely on our friends and neighbors to give us comfort when we need it . . . mostly.
You can almost hear the eyes roll as Mansel (played by Bob Yount) starts his oft-told tale of being kidnapped by Nazis during World War II and taken aboard a submarine. The looks say it all, "Here we go again." Yount has plenty to draw on from according to his local theater production credits here in the Tacoma-Puyallup area.
Chris Serface directed the production. He has done an outstanding job as managing director at TLT and his touch was certainly felt with the play. The humor and the laughs were continuos even as the message was being driven home. Excellent delivery. Take your friends and relatives to the play . . . We all live in a small town.
Second Samuel runs through February 7. For tickets or information, call 253-272-2281.
You'll find ticket information online at TacomaLittleTheatre.com.