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TNT clocks in with ‘Office Hours’ show

From left, Tom Burd, Connie Cassidy and Harmon Andrews are shown in a scene from the comedy "Office Hours," which opens Friday at Trumbull New Theatre. (Staff photo / Andy Gray)

Ben Gavitt is doing his part to make playwright Norm Foster as well known in the Mahoning Valley as he is in his native Canada. And he’s getting some help from the writer himself to do it.

Gavitt is directing Foster’s comedy “Office Hours” at Trumbull New Theatre, where it opens Friday for a three-weekend run.

It’s the third play he’s done by Foster, who has been referred to as Canada’s Neil Simon. Gavitt became a fan after he and his wife, Sonja, saw a production of Foster’s “Here on the Flight Path” while on their honeymoon.

Gavitt staged that show twice (at TNT in 2006 and later at Theatre 8:15), and he did Foster’s romantic comedy “Looking” last May at TNT. Over the years, he struck up an email correspondence with the writer.

“We have a little connection,” Gavitt said. “I can reach out to him; we’ve emailed back and forth. Because of the COVID stuff, I talked with him about changing the kissing and make-out scenes (in ‘Looking’), and he got right back to me about ways to update the show. It’s kind of cool to have that personal connection with him.”

Foster was the one who suggested “Office Hours” and a couple of other plays when Gavitt asked him about shows that would accommodate a larger cast.

“I was supposed to direct (another Foster recommendation) ‘Screwball Comedy,’ an old detective, film-noir type comedy, but for some reason we couldn’t get the rights, so I switched over to this one,” he said.

“Office Hours,” which was written in 1997, is a collection of six vignettes that all take place at the same time (4 p.m. Friday) in different offices of the same high-rise building.

“There are certain things that show up in every vignette, like a Margeaux Kenyon book that’s mentioned in every scene or an At-a-Glance appointment book,” Gavitt said. “They’re all intertwined with each other, and I like how you figure things out as it goes along — ‘Oh, this person is dating that person from the other scene and this is the person who was making out with that person at the horestrack.”

While Foster’s script predates both the U.S. and U.K. version of the sitcom “The Office,” Gavitt said some of the humor reminds him of that workplace comedy.

“Office Hours” can be staged with as few as five actors or as many as 16. Gavitt assembled a 11-person cast featuring Tom Burd, Allie Vugrincic, Steve Halas, Harmon Andrews, Cher Halas, Ken Pierson, Wayne Morlock, Jenny Long, Connie Cassidy, Jim Kilgore and Anna Gray.

With six separate vignettes and some of the actors only appearing in one scene, Gavitt said he split up the rehearsal schedule so each actor only had to rehearse once or twice a week. Except for an initial read-through of the script, the full cast didn’t work together until this week.

“We have some newer people to TNT who haven’t had a chance to be on that stage before and some of our veterans like Tom Burd, Connie Cassidy and Wayne Morlock. I’m working to get them all to connect and work together, and I think they’re doing an awesome job.”

Gavitt still hopes to stage “Screwball Comedy” eventually, and there are a few other Foster titles on his radar, but he doesn’t want to oversaturate the market.

“I didn’t submit any (of Foster’s plays) for next season,” he said. “I think I’ll take a little break and then come back to them.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Office Hours”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Jan. 29 and 2 p.m. Jan. 23 and 30

WHERE: Trumbull New Theatre, 5883 Youngstown Warren Road, Niles

HOW MUCH: $17 adults and $15 students. Tickets are available online at trumbullnew theatre.tix.com and by calling the TNT box office at 330-652-1103 between 7 and 9 p.m. weekdays. Audience members will be required to wear face masks during the performance.

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