Story & photos by Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
There’s no deeper well for situational comedy than family dynamics, and Lincoln City’s Theatre West dives right in to it in “Better Late,” a play by Larry Gelbart, running through Nov. 11.
Gelbart’s considerable credits include co-writer of the movie “Tootsie” and writer and producer of the beloved, long-running television series “M*A*S*H.”
The playwright died less than a year after the premier of the play, adding a poignancy to a darkly comedic script that tackles themes of illness, aging and mortality.
Colette Buchanan plays Nora, a woman who has room in both her home and her heart for more than one man, and who talks her husband Lee, played by John Jeans, into letting a recent stroke victim move in with them during his recovery.
Lee, a composer who works at home, tries to honor his wife’s request but has a slightly harder time with it, given that the person moving in with them is Nora’s ex-husband Julian, played by George Weber.
Anyone familiar with the play might notice a slight difference in the role of Nora and Julian’s only child, written as a young man, but played in the Lincoln City production by Theatre West newcomer Jana Ringhage.
“We just didn’t have anyone to play Billy,” said Director Wes Ryan. “So I said to myself, you know what, I’m going to do some gender bending. Jana read so beautifully that I knew it was the right choice, and I honestly think it’s funnier this way.”
Ringhage does an excellent job filling the role, now dubbed Billi-Jo, and has a confidence on stage that belies her age and level of experience.
Once Ryan tackled the slight ripple on the casting waters, the rest was smooth sailing.
“Collette fit the part perfectly,” he said. “John’s a very good actor, but he also just looks like a composer. And George is a natural comic.”
Wes is backed up by granddaughter Danielle Ryan, who tackles her role of assistant director along with handling lights and sound. Donna Morris serves as stage manager.
“Better Late” is being performed at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, which creates the opportunity for a very different type of scenery for the company. Rather than built sets, the backdrops of the frequently changing settings are projected onto a large screen, a surprisingly effective way to bring the viewer into the scene, especially for the act that involves driving down a Southern California freeway.
Ryan chose the play, which has many laugh-out-loud moments mixed with poignant ones, partially for the way it was written but also for who it was written by.
“I very much enjoyed the way the characters were written,” he said. “But it really had me at ‘He was the guy that wrote M*A*S*H.”
“Better Late” runs through Saturday, Nov. 10, with performances every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at the cultural center, 540 NE Hwy. 101.
Tickets, $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, and $10 for kids 12 and under, are available online at www.lincolncity-culturalcenter.org, or by calling 541-994-9994. A special group discount is available at $12 per ticket for groups of 10 or more with a pre-paid reservation.
For more information, go to www.theatrewest.com or call 541-994-5663.
Dinner and a show
The Friday, Nov. 2, dinner theater presentation will take place at the Beach Club and Event Center, located at 2020 NE 22nd Street.
For $40 per person, guests will enjoy the live show, plus a buffet dinner of roasted chicken, creamy garlic shrimp, wild rice and Caesar salad with bread and butter. Doors open at 6 pm, with the show beginning at 7:30 pm.
For reservations, call 541-418-5468.