The Neuse Little Theatre will open its 42nd season on Friday with a comedy the entire family can enjoy.
“Seniors of the Sahara” tells the story of Sylvia Goldberg, a retired New Jersey school teacher who gets more than she bargained for when she buys an old teapot while attending her grandson’s wedding in Israel. Upon returning to her retirement community, Sylvia discovers the teapot is home to a “geriatric genie” named Eugene who has a “bad back and a penchant for vodka and V8,” as the script puts it.
Hilarity ensues as Sylvia endeavors to hide Eugene from her three best friends – Fannie, Mabel and Thelma – and the stakes go up when Eugene’s former master, the evil Egyptian Savalas, threatens the leading lady with a knife.
The final act might even have some romance, teased Stephanie Veren, who is directing the production for the Neuse Little Theatre.
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“This show will speak to folks of all ages,” she said. “Some of the humor may go over a younger child’s head, but there’s no foul language, and they’ll understand it’s funny.”
In a first for the Neuse Little Theatre, “Seniors of the Sahara” will open with a two-minute video that shows Savalas’ reaction in Egypt when he realizes his genie is gone. The community troupe used multimedia elements in staging “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Death of a Salesman,” Veren said, but it has never produced a film of its own for a play. The group worked with videographer Randy Bernard of Clayton.
Shooting the video beforehand eliminated the need to build an Egyptian set for a two-minute scene, Veren said, and it also gave the NLT a chance to try something new.
In another first for Veren, who has directed six NLT shows, she called in a choreographer to help with a scene that takes place during a social dance at the characters’ retirement home. Patsy Castellano of Clayton taught one of the actresses to belly dance, and the other performers learned to deliver lines while moving their feet to music.
In casting, Veren said she tried as much as possible to find actors who were similar in real life to their characters in the play.
“I like to have my actors give as natural a performance for the characters they portray as possible, because I feel that real life can be funny in and of itself,” she said.
By those standards, Veren did an excellent job casting Nancy Gibbs in the lead role as Slyvia Goldberg. Just like her character, Gibbs is a retired school teacher. And while she might not have spent much time there, Gibbs confessed that she was actually born in New Jersey.
“It’s my dirty little secret,” she said. “I was born in New Jersey, but I moved here very young. So I’ve had to channel my mother and my aunts to get that accent.”
Reggie Parker plays the “geriatric genie” but said he shares just one of those two attributes with the character. The biggest challenge has been learning the odd phrases the genie uses, he said, such as “elongated tryst of the tongue.”
“That’s not everyday language, and there’s a lot of that type of language that the genie spews forth during this play,” he said. “It’s very flowery and a little convoluted.”
Following “Seniors of the Sahara,” the Neuse Little Theatre will continue it’s 42nd season in November with the musical murder mystery spoof “Something’s Afoot.” Auditions for that show will be Sept. 14-15. Next up in February is Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana,” which became an Academy Award-winning 1964 film starring Johnston County native Ava Gardner.
The season continues in April with the all-male musical “Elephant Sighs” and wraps up in June with a comedic production of “Always a Bridesmaid.”
‘Seniors of the Sahara’
Dates: 8 p.m. Sept. 11-12 and Sept. 18-19; 3 p.m. Sept. 13.
Where: The Hut, 104 S. Front St., Smithfield.
Tickets: $13 for reserved seats; $15 at the door.