"HOLD ON TO JUNE," 3-act comedy by Ruth and Nathan Hale; Hale Center Theater, 2801 S. Main; Mondays and Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 8, and occasional Tuesdays and Wednesdays, depending on demand; group discounts available. Call 484-9257.

I've always had a lot of respect for the Hales and their extended families, the Dietleins and Swensons, for their commitment to family theater. Admittedly, their productions generally don't fall into the category of "great art." The annual "Christmas Carol" comes about as close to hard-hitting drama as you'll find in the cozy South Salt Lake theater.But, occasionally, there's some off-stage drama as well - such as the one this past week. And this is where I gained even more respect for the Hales and their show-biz dedication.

One of Ruth and Nathan Hale's grandsons, Mark Dietlein, is fairly well-known to most HCT regulars. He performs in many of the plays and directs quite a few, too. He does both in the current comedy, "Hold on to June."

But last week, his back "went out" on him. Since the leading role of Tim, a widower with three rambunctious offspring, is double-cast, his co-actor in the role, Jared Shaver, was available for some of the earlier performances. Mark was sure he'd bounce right back on his feet in time for the Friday evening performance. (Shaver couldn't pinch-hit on Friday because he was also performing in City Rep's "Follies" and, even though he's a very talented chap, even he couldn't be in two places at the same time.)

As it got closer to Friday, it was obvious that Mark was not going to be up and around, even with the help of the family's own resident chiropractor, Bob Swenson.

However, Mark's younger brother, Tim Dietlein, who's involved with the family's older and larger theater in Glendale, Calif., just happened to be vacationing in Park City.

You can guess the rest.

In the very finest of "the show must go on" traditions, Tim came down from Park City, saw a performance of the play, then spent the wee hours of the morning learning his lines. Then he went on Friday night in place of his older brother.

Mark's wife, Sally, apprised me of the situation before we took our seats, but others in the audience - except possibly those who were familiar with both Mark and Jared - probably never suspected that there had been a last-minute change in actors.

Tim's performance wasn't flawless - there were a couple of slightly awkward moments when it appeared there was some ad libbing - but he was thoroughly believable as the young widower who finds love in one of Idaho's most beautiful spots, Redfish Lake.

Grandma Ruth can be justifiably proud of her young grandson, who she introduced to the audience at the end of the performance. His performance was warm and genuine.

And I left with added respect for the theater-loving Hale family.

Now, what about the show itself? Like most Hale comedies, it involves a variety of romantic mixups and everything turns out nifty in the end.

All but three roles are double-cast, so it's not easy to pinpoint specific performers. Tim and June, the widower and the unmarried kindergarten teacher who meet and then fall in love at a Redfish Lake campsite, are the central characters. The role of June is triple-cast. Ronda Lee Wanberg was performing the night we saw the play, and she did a fine job as the teacher faced with the frustrating task of choosing between two suitors.

One real standout in the cast is Karl Biesinger as Ralph, a loud-mouthed, obnoxious fellow who's been chasing June for five years and who would be willing to marry June - as long as "this marriage business" doesn't interfere with his other fun-and-games hobbies.

Even more obnoxious, and one character I found especially grating, was Bonniebelle. Her put-on Southern accent (she's an Atlanta peach recently transplanted from the Deep South to southern Idaho) was overdone to the point that you could barely understand her dialogue. I kept wishing she'd just leave everyone alone and go back to her family's camp.

There were just a couple of minor problems with the sound on Friday night, too. In a couple of scenes some nearby campers are supposed to yell for Tim's kids and the other campers to keep quiet, but these off-stage sound effects were barely audible. In another scene, Tim and June are trying to converse while another person's ghetto blaster is blaring away. I suspect that the sound is supposed to be turned down a little so we can hear the dialogue, but it didn't happen right on cue.

But, considering the awkward situation we went into - an actor pinch-hitting in a major role (and I suspect that the other performers are just as nervous, having to play opposite someone they're unsure of) - "Hold on to June" went very smoothly, with an ample supply of laughs along the way.