Friday, January 29, 2016

Second Samuel at Tacoma Little Theatre

 Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 28, 2016
Doc (Michael Dresdner) and B Flat (Aaron Mohs-Hale).  All photos courtesy Dennis K Photography
Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of Second Samuel is a little play that tackles big subjects in an inventive manner while maintaining its light-hearted feel. It is a stylistic marvel with two sets: the Bait and Brew Bar (stage left), advertising red eye, that’s booze, and red wigglers, that’s bait; and the Change Your Life Hair and Beauty Emporium (stage right). These settings are strictly segregated by sex, with the women in the salon and the men in the bar. The only person to be seen in both is B Flat (Aaron Mohs-Hale), who is both the narrator and a major character in the story. This dichotomy is carried over to the structure of the story, which separates Act 1 and Act 2 into stories that are different in mood, light comedy in the first act and heavy drama that still manages to keep just enough humor after the intermission. Credit playwright Pamela Parker and director Chris Serface for this magic act, brought about by having dialogue overlap and, in places, having characters speak in chorus with the narrator, all of which is augmented by lighting, also by Serface.

Ruby (Ellen Peters), Marcela (Neicie Packer), Omaha (Diana George), Jimmy Deeanne (Jill Heinecke)
During the first act, I was afraid it was going to be just another farcical play making fun of uneducated Southerners. I had recently been subjected to one of those, and it was a horrible experience. But there was hope because Mohs-Hale’s narration and his depiction of the boy called B Flat was so natural, unassuming and sincere, and because the rest of the characters portrayed by an excellent ensemble cast seemed natural despite being quirky and verging on Southern stereotypes. They even got the accents right with no exaggeration.
Second Samuel Cast
Throughout the first act it was a lighthearted play of hootenanny humor, until something totally unexpected happened, something I cannot divulge, something that completely changed the play from a frothy comedy to a serious look into the soul of a town.
The second act takes an unflinching look into the ways in which residents of a small town overcome intolerance and rise above their stuck-in-the-mud ways. It is still humorous, but with sensitivity and intelligence never forecast by the first act.
The story takes place in a small town in Georgia in the late 1940s, where everyone knows all about everyone else. Or they think they do.
There is a definite Our Town feel. We expect the men in the bar and the women in the beauty parlor to go on lovingly fussing and fighting forever, but the death of Miss Gertrude changes all of that. Never seen on stage, Miss Gertrude is already dead when the play opens. She was one of the most beloved people in town, and her death takes the townspeople into unexpected territory.
There is only one black character in the play, U.S. (Jimmy Shields), whom everyone likes. This at a time and place when virulent racism was rife. The only racist in town is Mr. Mozel (Tom Birkeland), a curmudgeonly old man who doesn’t like anyone. If we were expecting realism, this could have been a damaging blow to the play, but Mr. Mozel is not presented as a real person but rather as a symbol for all the small minded and racist people who would actually live in a town like Second Samuel.
The owner of the Bait and Brew, Frisky (Kerry Bringman) is anything but frisky, except probably with his wife, Omaha Nebraska (Diana George). They love each other dearly, but he is embarrassed by any show of affection in front of the other men. Omaha and her siblings, by-the-way, are all named after cities.
U.S. is possibly the smartest person in town. He and B Flat are the town’s peacemakers along with, to a lesser degree, Doc (Michael Dresdner), who tells the town busybodies to mind their own business. The most infuriating of these busybodies is Jimmy Deeanne (Jill Heinecke) the self-absorbed wife of the local Baptist preacher.
Mansel (Bob Yount) is a good ol’ boy who drinks a lot and tells whoppers that nobody believes. He is married to Marcela (Neicie Packer), who tries her best, with minimal success, to make a good man out of him. Most of these characters are flawed but basically good.
The cast is outstanding. I want to see more and more of Shields and Mohs-Hale. Heinecke beautifully portrays the woman you love to hate. Yount, Bringman and Dresdner are each so natural in their roles that if I didn’t know better I’d think they were playing themselves.
I was intrigued by many of the character names, which enhance the quirky character of the town of Second Samuel, so named because the original town of Samuel was destroyed and rebuilt; which is what happens metaphorically to the townspeople after Miss Gertrude’s death.
Second Samuel is an unpretentious play that tackles large themes and brings them down to manageable size. It takes place on a set (designed by Lex Gernon) that reflects the time and place, and the intimate feel of the very believable characters. It is a relatively short play that comes in at a little under two hours including intermission.

Note: It was called to my attention that I erroneously said B Flat was the only man to venture into the hair salon. I had forgotten that Doc also ventured into the salon where he showed Jimmy Deeanne and others the error of their ways.
Second Samuel, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 7, $20-$24, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

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