Entertainment :: Theatre

The Star-Spangled Girl
by Christopher Soden
EDGE Contributor
Sunday Feb 1, 2009

   (Source:rover Dramawerks)
In their latest venture into reviving rarely-seen, sometimes nearly forgotten plays from America’s past, Rover Dramawerks is currently staging Neil Simon’s The Star-Spangled Girl.

The play, a relatively early comedy of Simon’s, was timely in the ’60s because of the Vietnam war. And it’s timely today, very possibly because the only war that has elicited such intense debate and protest since then, has been the war in Iraq.

Wherever you stand in that debate, the question that often arises in such difficult times is whether or not it is unpatriotic to express criticism or objection to current political policies. Interestingly enough, the same question simmers at the core of Neil Simon’s romantic farce between two best friends and Sophie Rauschmeyer, the peppy patriot that has moved into the apartment just upstairs.

Andy Hobart (Joey Folsom) and Norman Cornell (Joe Cucinotti) became buddies when they met in college. Realizing that Norman had the intellectual and verbal brilliance to carry them both a long way, Andy pitched the idea of collaborating on a low-budget, erudite political magazine. The two share an apartment in New York, out of which they publish an articulate, radical periodical called Fallout, pounding on typewriter keys and avoiding creditors. Always willing to take one for the team, Andy spends much of his leisure time with the landlady, providing attractive male companionship, and thus forestalling rent collection.

Andy and Norman work well together, and as "Star-Spangled Girl" opens, the next issue of Fallout is in process when Sophie (Marla Jo Kelly), an Olympic Swimmer from the deep South, shows up at their front door. She has brought them a cake to establish good-neighbor relations, and Norman is instantaneously smitten. His senses are kicked into overdrive and his compulsive attraction leads him to gestures that are sweet and endearing, if, uh, somewhat bizarre.

When we see Cucinotti positively intoxicated with rapturous, tender love and his face takes on the demented mischievousness of Pepe Le Pew, it’s almost impossible not to lose it.
It’s not long before Sophie comes to visit their apartment again, expressing her concern and frustration for Norman’s misguided attentions. It’s sobering in 2009, when we have so many additional ways to contact and communicate with one another, and the term "stalker" is used so freely, to consider how innocuous Norman’s rocket-fueled infatuation truly is. No matter how extravagant and loopy his behavior, neither Sophie nor Andy (nor anyone in the audience) worries that he is pathological. Norman, God-bless-him, is head over heels and we’ve all been there. Which is what makes "Star-Spangled Girl" so touching, and so full of wonderfully funny moments.

When we see Cucinotti positively intoxicated with rapturous, tender love, and his face takes on the demented mischievousness of Pepe Le Pew, it’s almost impossible not to lose it. To quote the song from Purlie!, Norman’s "got love" (reciprocated or not), and he’s never felt more alive or giddy. Beads of sweat roll down his forehead and Cucinotti wears those lopsided, lens-less, black googly glasses like he was born with them. His performance is ingenious, inspired and ticklish magic.

Andy, who is far more experienced in matters of the heart (or the libido, anyway), is nonplussed by Norman’s titanic attraction for Sophie, but realizes he must somehow negotiate the delicate situation if the new issue of Fallout is to hit the presses by deadline. Folsom is relaxed and confident as the savvy radical intellectual, whose cool-headed pragmatism usually staves off chaos. He’s handsome and affable, and Simon’s penchant for quips and shtick roll from him with natural grace.

Sophie only wishes to get on with her athletic career and engagement to a stalwart Marine, without resorting to extreme and hurtful measures. Kelly has the challenge of sounding Southern, fizzy, smart, and perplexed, all at the same time while making Doc Simon’s compulsive banter sound extemporaneous. Director Carol Rice has done a formidable job here keeping these bright, juicy, oranges in the air, balancing dialogue that must feel spontaneous but also bounce and pop.

There was a great deal of wisdom in choosing "The Star Spangled Girl" at a time when many of us are trying to shake off our national malaise and a new president has entered the oval office. Something really engaging about this comedy is Neil Simon’s affection for the passions and credos of his characters, and the epiphanies that Sophie has before the play reaches its denouement. Without (I hope) spoiling all the surprises of this bracing production: our heroine discovers that love of country evinces in all sorts of activities, and that you can’t have magnetism without polarity.

Neil Simon’s The Star Spangled Girl will play at Rover Dramawerks through Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14th. 1039 East 15th Street, Suite 202, Plano,Texas, 75074.

For more details call: 972-349-0958 or check their website at www.roverdramawerks.com

Christopher Soden received his MFA in Poetry from Vermont College in 2005. He is a teacher, lecturer, actor, performer and playwright. In addition he writes film, theatre and literary critique. In his spare time he likes to read, cook, dine, do crossword puzzles, chill and nap.

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