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Aging thespians better than just so-so

As you read this, it's probably some time on Sunday and you're enjoying a cup of coffee or cool lemonade and relaxing a bit. Perhaps you're contemplating the week ahead and looking for suggestions. If you have unfilled time on your calendar, I have a suggestion for a little fun with people who want to put a smile on your heart.

On a recent Saturday night, my husband and I attended a performance by a group of aging thespians and their incredible honky-tonk, piano-playing accompanist. After an opening sing-along, we chuckled our way through an old-fashioned melodrama, "The Po'tater Family Saga." It's one of several options the Southern Oregon Senior Theater has available. They call themselves "SOSO".

The troupe is offering a series of four one-act plays and melodrama that may lure us back. They run Friday-Sunday, Aug. 5-7. Go to www.oregonconservatory.com/Senior.html or call 541-776-9118 make a reservation.

On the night we attended, there were almost as many people on stage as there were in the audience. The 7 p.m. performance (they have them at 2 p.m. on Sundays, too) was at the well-designed, easy-to-access Rose Street Theater at Phoenix High School, 745 N. Rose St., Phoenix.

These are not established actors. According to the information on the program, the heroine had never acted in a play before. One cast member had not performed on stage since 1954. She described herself as having spent the interim "overdramatizing daily experiences."

As melodramas go, there were, of course, opportunities for booing and hissing — little encouragement needed toward occasional groans. There were cardboard signs held by the congenial host that kept popping out stage left, reminding us to react appropriately. We sat next to a couple who didn't need any signs.

It was contagious. Even though the audience was sparse, young and old alike were totally engaged. There was a villain; two in fact. The ever-smiling heroine wore a pastel dress — it was very becoming. The hero was in coveralls. One of my favorite moments occurred in the second act when two male actors demonstrated "how to walk like a woman." In retrospect I'm not sure how that fit into the "plot" of this family saga, but it sure was a hoot.

There were "oleos." I'd never heard the term before. My quick search on the Web indicates it derived from the term "mish-mosh" and describes "any short scene usually performed on the stage apron, used extensively in melodramas as an artistic technique to break the tension."

In this melodrama on this particular night, there wasn't much tension, but at the end of the second act, when you thought the play was over, several eager actors came on stage, one by one, to perform individually — singing a song or reciting a poem. There was even a card trick with audience participation.

It was one of the most sweet-tender moments of the evening. When each performer finished, there was not a hiss, groan or boo anywhere. Lots of applause, though.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.