There’s a huge plot twist in “Second Samuel,” now on at Tacoma Little Theatre, and I’m not going to give it away here. But let’s just say that despite the play being set in a podunk Georgia town in the 1940s, the twist is a major contemporary issue that uses the sweet-as-pie setting to make a point that is clearly designed for this day and age.
And Tacoma Little Theatre’s production makes that point with some tight ensemble work, a feel-good set and lighting, and a great pace for the jokes that keep a smile on your face.
In a way, “Second Samuel” is perfect for community theater. Written by Pamela Parker in the early 1990s, it’s based on her family’s memories of the rural South at that time. It’s a fun vintage period for sets and costumes, the action toggles between just two main town gossip spots (the beauty salon and the bar) on the same stage, and there’s a delicious line-up of cliched characters for community actors to sink their teeth into.
For this production, Lex Gernon has built a terrific set of wide wood planks and worn carved trim, creating an old-timey porch with a swinging door flanked by the whiskey-and-bait saloon on one side and the pretty-pink salon on the other. Director Chris Serface amplifies the feel-good tone with pastel lighting: pink for the ladies’ side (the salon) and yellow for the gents’. Costumes (Michelle Graves) are fun without being hokey, and the whole thing looms large, inviting the audience to be part of this big-hearted small town.
No one stands out in this cast, but most do a fine job in wearing their character’s cliched traits. As Act I introduces us to the townsfolk mourning the recently-departed — and dearly loved — old Miss Gertrude, there’s the wisecracking black bartender U.S. (Jimmy Shields), his softhearted boss Frisky (Kerry Bringman), grumpy and racist Mr. Mozel (Tom Birkeland, strong in this role), a thoughtful Doc (Michael Dresdner), drunken undertaker June (Marc Carvajal) and slow-thinking Mansel (Bob Yount). The ladies’ side is led by the bossy hairdresser Omaha (Diana George, deliciously garrulous), her nervous assistant Ruby (hand-wringing Ellen Peters), the sharp-tongued and witty Marcela (Neicie Packer) and the self-righteous preacher’s wife Jimmy Deeanne (Jill Heinecke).
In the middle of all this is B Flat, the go-between and philosophical voice of truth. Not quite right in the head and consequently ideally placed to voice the play’s underlying themes of diversity and acceptance. Aaron Mohs-Hale rides this role with comfortable ease, but his lines always sound a little pre-prepared. Instead, the acting highlight is the brisk back-and-forth between couples, genders and friends, with an excellent pace from Serface and perfect joke delivery that has the audience chuckling constantly.
After Miss Gertrude’s big secret is revealed, the second act ramps up the tension in how everyone deals with it. Despite the saccharine sweetness of the setting and the slight unbelievability (small-town 1940s white Southerners would not have been this accepting), “Second Samuel” raises crucial questions about how we treat our fellow human beings, and the Tacoma Little Theatre cast gives those questions enough space and depth to get you thinking without being preachy.
This isn’t “Spring Awakening.” It’s a show your grandma will love and your brother-in-law will chuckle at (though kids might not get most of the jokes). But it serves up a good helping of broad-mindedness along with the peach pie.
Who: Tacoma Little Theatre, directed by Chris Serface.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 7.
Where: 210 N. I St., Tacoma.
Tickets: $24 adult; $22 senior, student and military; $20 child.
Information: 253-272-2281, tacomalittletheatre.com.