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Laughs Fill Little Theatre

Theater Review

The Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA) takes Ken Ludwig's gag-filled farce, "Lend Me a Tenor," and uses it to fill the theater with the sound of laughter. The comedy, which opened last weekend, plays through June 26.

Ludwig, then a practicing attorney at a downtown Washington law firm, struck gold with this expertly crafted comedy when it opened on Broadway in 1989 and ran almost as long as Neil Simon's latest hit comedy, "Rumors." Since then, "Lend Me a Tenor" has become a popular property for all levels of theater, including community theaters like LTA.

Director Adriana Hardy does an excellent job of keeping the laughs from interfering with the story. After all, an audience laughing at one line of dialogue can't always hear and understand the next and key plot points can be lost in the mirth. Hardy manages to keep the pace bright while working in pauses and moments of action to give the audience time to settle down before springing the next piece of information or laugh-producing gag.

Hardy has the services of a superb cast who work well together as an ensemble in this fast paced story of mixed up identities which takes place in a two-room hotel suite with no fewer than six doors to be slammed as characters frantically switch places and pursue each other through a clear but convoluted story.

The premise is that a financially troubled opera company has booked a world-class tenor to star in a benefit performance of Verdi's "Otello." At the last moment, he accidentally takes an overdose of medicine, collapses and appears to die. Rather than cancel the performance, an assistant at the Opera goes on in costume, wig and makeup of Otello. Of course, the star revives and - as luck would have it — has brought along a spare costume which he dons to create all the confusion of the evening.

THE TWO TENORS — the star and the assistant — are played with a fine sense of comic abandon by Shawn Perry and Ron Sweeney. Complications are contributed by Maya Weil as the wife of the real opera star and Diane Burkard as the assistant's girlfriend. Add to the mix Shannon Watson as an amorously inclined opera diva who is thrilled to be co-starring with, she thinks, the world-class tenor and Pat Spencer as a star-struck chairwoman of the Opera's Board of Directors and you have a fine ensemble. All it takes is to add Greg Christopher as the opera company's manager, to stir up the comic pot and bring it to the boil.

The Little Theatre of Alexandria is known for its substantial sets but this one goes beyond even the standard of this company. That the two-room set designed by Robert Gray withstands the physical abuse of the frantic door-slamming action is a testament to the skill of the construction crew. The two-tone gray and mauve setting is suitably attractive as well so that it seems appropriate as the VIP suite for the visiting tenor.

A key to the success of the show is the combination of Jean Keppler's design for the two costumes for Otello and Frank D. Shutts, II and Martha Bargar's make-up. Together, they create a believable similarity between Perry and Sweeney so that the actions and reactions of the rest of the characters make perfect sense. Hardy's cast gets the most out of the comic opportunities and the audience gets lots of laughs.