Though the holidays are over, the loved ones have gone back home and the sun sets at 5:50 p.m., there's no need for January blues.
Why not take in a dinner, a comedy — or both?
That's what Jo Anne Anselmin did when she organized a group of 16 friends from the Highland Lakes community to attend the opening night performance of the Early Bird Dinner Theatre's Bermuda Avenue Triangle on Sunday.
Anselmin said she has been a patron of the dinner theater for years and has seen nearly every show — some two or three times.
Six shows run each season, with a three-week midsummer break.
"You come here, you smile, you laugh, you feel happy," said Anselmin, 73.
The off-Broadway comedy Bermuda Avenue Triangle had them belly laughing from the get-go as two aging widows, Fannie and Tess, are moved into a Las Vegas condo by their daughters.
One suffers from a Sicilian curse, the other from bouts of depression.
Wearing frumpy clothes and rolled up stockings, the gray-haired women are not happy about their new digs in the retirement village, even if they can spot "Julio Iglesias' mother's house" when standing on their tiptoes.
But their misery quickly subsides as a con man named Johnny Paolucci enters their lives, perks up their libidos and raids their bank accounts.
It's the comedic shtick, good food and reasonable prices (tickets cost $32 each) that keep audiences, particularly the senior set, coming back for more, said Ed Fletcher, owner and producer of the dinner theater.
Now 70, Fletcher wrote a screenplay and shot a movie called Sparrows' Nest in the 1980s.
The movie bombed, but Fletcher befriended many talented actors in the Tampa Bay area during the process.
"I figured I had to get them out of my hair and find them something to do," he said. "I thought live theater would be a pretty good idea."
So in the late 1980s, Fletcher paired up with a small restaurant chain and opened dinner theaters in Dunedin, Seminole and New Port Richey. When the restaurateur retired, Fletcher partnered with Bill Irle to open the Early Bird Dinner Theatre on Fort Harrison Avenue, where it ran for 16 years.
After Irle also retired, Fletcher moved the theater to its current venue at the Italian American Club, 200 S McMullen Booth Road, in Clearwater. This is the third season at this locale.
Performances take place four days a week. Seating begins at 4 p.m. with additional matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.
"We have to get those older people off the street early," Fletcher joked about the early start times.
Buffet dinners are catered by Banquet Masters of Pinellas Park. The menu features a salad bar, entrees like Italian meatballs and sliced top round roast beef, side dishes and a miniature chocolate bundt cake for dessert.
The presentation begins with director Robin New chatting with the audience and asking about birthdays and anniversaries.
Afterward, the cast, chosen from an ensemble of local actors, lines up to greet their audience on their way out.
Nate Serlin of Palm Harbor said he looked forward to the kiss and hug he'd likely receive from actor Barbara Anthony.
Cindy Craig, 53, of Seminole said she feels a real connection with the stage and actors.
"It's an excellent show," she said, "and we love the small theater experience."
Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org