TGIF: Lyric ends COVID lockdown with ‘Get Smart’

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

It’s been a long time — too long actually — between performances at Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre. We can blame the pandemic for that. It all changes this weekend as our community players present a stage rendition of the popular television series “Get Smart.”

The following statement sounds like a cliché, but it happens to be true. Tickets are in short supply, but a few may still be available through the theater’s website, www.brownwoodlyrictheatre.com. Don’t expect tickets to be sold at the door because advance planning is needed to ensure enough space separates groups of people in the audience. Seat availability is further limited by another measure being taken for public safety: alternating rows are being left vacant. Even with a sellout run, the Lyric will be under 50 percent capacity for this show.

By Wednesday this week, seats anywhere except on the back row of the main floor and in the balcony were in very short supply.

A limited series of four performances is scheduled. The curtain will rise at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, then at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. And would you believe, tickets cost only $12 for adults and $10 for students? I hope you will believe that, because it’s the actual price, instead of that familiar Maxwell Smart comedy line.

That’s enough about the process; let’s talk about the show. It’s good to be back in the theater.

 Anyone who watched television in the late 1960s knows the “Get Smart” premise. Maxwell Smart, who’s also known as Agent 86, stumbles his way through the dangerous world of espionage but somehow always manages to come out on top. Assisted by beautiful Agent 99 and supervised by his long-suffering “Chief,” Smart and the spy agency CONTROL battle the evil agenda of KAOS with a collection of gadgetry, some laughable incompetence, and Smart’s frustrating insistence on following procedure.

The Lyric production packs a creative set with multiple levels and unique lighting onto the main stage as well as onto both side wings. The 90-minute show is performed in one act, without an intermission.

Initially, the audience may be distracted by the deployment of full-length face shields on most of the actors and actresses, but any visual inconvenience quickly disappears as the plot unfolds. From many angles, those clear shields seem to disappear. Only when stage lights catch them just right will a reflection block facial expressions. It’s reassuring to know that the health and safety of those on stage are being guarded, just as they are for members of the audience. These are precautions that must be taken for the show to go on at this point in the pandemic.

The plot that KAOS has hatched involves pilfering a not-so-secret secret weapon being held by CONTROL so that foreign agents can use it to blow up the Statue of Liberty. It’s a lame proposition, to be sure, but it works to underscore the absurdity of the characters and to provide a suitable vehicle upon which to hang comedic one-liners and sight-gags.

Fans of the television show will appreciate that everything’s there, ranging from CONTROL agents hidden in trash cans and bus terminal lockers, to improbable “coincidences” such as when three — let’s just say — homely blondes are kidnapped. You’ll understand when you see them.

I dropped in on a dress rehearsal earlier this week to take some photos, and director Larry Mathis said the cast was still ironing out some rough spots — nothing unusual for a few days before opening night. Even so, rough spots seemed minimal at that point in the rehearsal schedule compared to other outstanding shows the Lyric has offered in the past. The only things missing were an actual gong, and a lively audience to giggle at the nonstop humor. Audiences can be expected to be laughing quite often.

“Get Smart” follows the 1960s television show formula of some of the most successful — in terms of ticket sales — shows in the Lyric’s recent history. The theater’s restoration was completed in 2014 and the first show was presented that December. The Lyric productions of “Beverly Hillbillies” in 2017 and “Gilligan’s Island” in 2019 were among this community’s favorites.

The Lyric is open again, albeit cautiously. “Be smart” this weekend and see “Get Smart,” if at all possible.

Gene Deason, a member of the Lyric board, is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.