When you absolutely need to laugh

Morals tomorrow

Comedy tonight!

Stephen Sondheim

Three Gainesville theaters are ending January with some laughs.

Will a sunset couple fall out of love before the earth beneath their feet swallows them up? Can a woman dressed as a man find true love in a forest primeval? Can a man evade love’s lure while reveling in a secret life of ribaldry?

Listen, these are grim times. One Covid wave atop another. Politics growing ever grimmer. And now inflation.

What Gainesville needs, tonight, is comedy.

Fortunately, the Gainesville Community Playhouse, the Hippodrome and the Acrosstown Repertory Theater all fill the bill this month with new productions designed to bemuse, befuddle and delight.

Remember “Sunset Village,” Gainesville playwright Michael Presley Bobbit’s tour de farce about life, lust and ribaldry in that infamous retirement community south of Ocala? All that mate swapping, medical marijuana imbibing and pimped-out golf cart racing?

There is trouble in senior citizen paradise in “Return to Sunset Village.”

On Jan. 28 the Gainesville Community Playhouse will present the world premier of “Return to Sunset Village” (which was originally scheduled to debut last year but, you know, Covid).

And the aforementioned diversions aside, all is far from peachy in that seniors’ paradise. Turns out the sinkhole that disrupted the sunsetters’ idyllic lives in the first play foretold worse things to come.

“In the actual Villages sinkholes are becoming a real thing. And everyone thinks it might be due to overdevelopment,” says Bobbitt. “This is about people trying to save their slice of paradise from greedy developers.”

A typical Florida story, in other words. “The people who live in Sunset Village are now protesting Sunset Village.”

If that doesn’t sound particularly humorous, Bobbitt promises to keep things light with “swinging sex, senior paramilitary action,” and even “a granny panty raid.”

Oh, and GCP has installed a stripper’s prop on stage so residents, bored with bee keeping, can strut their stuff in “pole dancing class.”

Gainesville actors Shamrock McShane and Anna Marie Kirkpatrick are returning as Mr. Midnight and Edna, whose on-again, off-again love affair is about as stable as a sinkhole. “At heart the first play was about caring for our relationships while we can,” Bobbitt said. “This is still a story about the abiding friendships we form in order to avoid bleakness at the end of our older years.”

Information about show times and ticket sales can be found at www.gcplayhouse.org.

The Hippodrome is putting a modern day twist on a timeless Shakespeare play.

If CGP‘s “Return” seems ripped from yesterday’s headlines, the Hippodrome is banking on the timeless appeal of Shakespearean humor to fill its seats.

“As You Like It,” will premier at the Hipp on Jan. 21. It is a tale of would-be lovers forced by court intrigue to don disguises and flee into the woods – there to fool, and make fools of, themselves and one another. And the Hipp is once again drawing on its partnership with UF’s Department of Theater And Dance to meld the talents of its professional actors with up and coming student performers.

“This is a good time for a Shakespeare comedy,” says director Charlie Mitchell. “There’s a little cross dressing. There’s lovers escaping from a practically fascist court into a world where everybody jumps when somebody sneezes.

“Shakespeare loved to have fun with lovers. He loved to tease them and make them do silly things.”

Originally set in 17th century Europe, Mitchell has opted to give “As You Like It” a more recent look and feel.

“I decided to set it in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the heyday of European dictators,” he said. “You always have to reinterpret Shakespeare for a modern audience. It was also the beginning of professional wrestling, and there’s wrestling in it.”

Show times and ticket information can be found at https://thehipp.org.

Or is it “The Importance Of Being Oscar Wilde”/

Fun historical fact. Although “As You Like It” is one of The Bard’s most celebrated plays – indeed, the play that told us “All the world’s a stage.” – it had its detractors. Oscar Wilde, for instance, thought it superficial.

I only mention this because the Acrosstown Repertory Theater will resume its season on Jan. 28 with Wilde’s drawing room comedy “The Importance Of Being Earnest” (aka “A Trivial Comedy For Serious People”).

And in a departure, the ACT is rearranging theater seating in order to present this play “in the round.”

“We’re having to act in 360 degrees, which is an interesting challenge,” says director Andrea Young. “There are so many lines directed at the audience that its almost a character in the play. So they really need to be involved in the action.”

“Earnest” is about a man who escapes the strictures of Victorian morals by adopting the libertine ways of a scoundrel persona. The play is considered a humorous take on Wilde’s real life struggles to conceal his own scandalous lifestyle (homosexuality being a big no-no in that day and age).

“I think what I like most about it is that it’s just so dry and witty. I’ve been telling my actors it’s like doing an episode of ‘Seinfeld,’” said Young. “Everybody’s pretending to be someone else. I think everybody has been in a situation where they had to lie a little bit to get what they wanted. Our lives are ridiculous that way.

“It’s kind of nice to see we all have the same problems they had in the 1890s”

For showtimes and ticket information go to http://www.acrosstown.org.

Oh, one more thing. Although this month’s play selections are all about comedy, there is still nothing funny about Covid. So all three theaters will require audience members to wear masks during performances and otherwise observe precautionary or social distancing measures. For details, check out their websites.

And don’t forget to laugh.

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