‘Second Time’ warms TNT with laughter

NILES — If laughter produced heat, Trumbull New Theatre would be the warmest spot in the Mahoning Valley this month.

Snow delayed the opening of “Second Time Around” at the theater by a day, but it didn’t seem to throw off the cast, which worked Henry Denker’s script for consistent laughs on Saturday.

Samuel Jonas (Jim Penn) and Laura Curtis (Terri Gilbert), both widowed, have called a meeting with their adult children. Laura’s son Mike (Tom Horrell) is convinced the parents are going to announce an engagement. Samuel’s daughter Cynthia (Amy Burd), whose mother died less than a year ago, is horrified that her father would enter into another relationship so soon.

The real announcement horrifies both children — Samuel and Laura plan to live together instead of getting married to avoid the economic hit that would come from reduced Social Security and pension income.

Denker wrote the play more than 40 years ago, and the TNT production keeps the setting in the late 1970s / early ’80s. There were a few jokes that haven’t aged well but the script overall remains breezy and enjoyable.

Director Robert Spain has assembled a talented cast, and the staging plays off the contrasts among the main six actors.

TNT veterans Penn and Gilbert revel in their roles. The audience can feel the enjoyment Samuel and Laura get toying with their high-maintenance children, and their comedic timing is impeccable. Penn got huge reactions Saturday with a couple lines that weren’t particularly special. It was all in the delivery — his vocal inflection and a pause in just the right place.

Penn and Gilbert clearly are having a lot of fun working together, and their enjoyment is infectious.

Horrell, a local theater veteran making a welcome return to the stage after a long absence, is a nice contrast to Penn and Gilbert. His Michael is all manic energy and grand gestures, a man whose every reaction is an overreaction. It’s the kind of character that can become too broad, but Horrell manages to dance on that edge without falling off the cliff.

Burd’s Cynthia is more pent up and neurotic, and the opening scene featuring Burd and Horrell before the parents arrive has a nice energy that sets the tone for the work.

The second act introduces Cynthia’s and Michael’s spouses — Herb Everman as a pompous analyst who is more in need of therapy than any of his patients and Melanie Lucas as a nutrition-obsessed and controlling wife. If Cynthia and Michael seem messed up in the first act, the arrival of their spouses makes it clear how they ended up that way.

John Groom and Camilla Keener make a late appearance as Samuel’s grandson and the grandson’s girlfriend. No fault of the actors, but those characters add little to the resolution of the play. It probably would work just as well as a six-character comedy.

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