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In the play "Tribute," former scriptwriter Scottie Templeton works occasionally as a Broadway press agent and loves to laugh - and to make other people laugh. When a situation gets too serious, he inevitably turns to humor. And, beyond that, he's rather irresponsible. He's never been reliable when it comes to work ... or family.
When he learns he has terminal leukemia, Scottie decides to reach out to his estranged grown son.
That said, "Tribute" isn't a drama about a man who's dying, according to Vic Panciera, who is directing the Groton Regional Theatre production that opens Friday.
"It's about the father who is trying to reconnect with his son and teach him," Panciera says. "He said, 'I don't have money to give him. I don't have any memories that he can keep. The only thing I have is a joy for life that he doesn't have.' He wants to teach him how to enjoy life and be happy."
The play comes by its humor honestly. "Tribute's" writer, Bernard Slade, was a TV scribe on such sitcoms as "Bewitched." He developed "The Flying Nun" and "The Partridge Family," too.
But Panciera says the comedy in "Tribute" is sophisticated, more along the lines of Slade's "Same Time, Next Year." Slade writes beautiful characters, he says.
"When we had the first read-through, the woman playing (Scottie's) ex-wife got into the first scene, and she found the character in that instant and did it for the rest of the read-through. That's how good his writing is, really."
"Tribute" debuted on Broadway in 1978, and it was made into a film in 1980. Both of those starred Jack Lemmon, who earned Tony and Drama Desk nominations for his stage work as Scottie.
In the GRT production, Andrew Houlihan plays Scottie, and Patrick DiCesare is his son, Jud. (Robert Picardo and Robby Benson played the son in, respectively, the original stage version and in the movie.)
Since the play was written in the 1970s, a few changes had been incorporated into the GRT version. The tribute - where the actors treat the theatergoers as if they are the audience at the part-of-the-show's-plot tribute - is supposed to take place in the present. Accommodations were thus made to update things.
In the original version, Scottie had been in vaudeville. Here, they've changed vaudeville to nightclub.
Mostly, though, pop-culture references were adjusted.
During the first rehearsal, when a character talks about Lana Turner, one of the GRT actors asked, "Who the heck is Lana Turner?"
Now, instead of someone saying, "As Lana Turner said to Judith Evelyn, I would have played that role differently," the references are Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep.
And instead of Scottie telling a young woman that his son has often been mistaken for Joe Namath, he says he's been mistaken for Tom Brady.
"Tribute," Groton Senior Center, 102 Newtown Road (Route 117), Groton; opens Fri. and runs through March 30; 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun.; $15, $12 seniors, $12 for all in advance; brownpapertickets.com
After "Tribute," Groton Regional Theatre will continue its 2014 season with the musical version of "The Wedding Singer" in June (auditions will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Groton Senior Center) and with "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in the fall.