Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Theater Review: The Star-Spangled Girl


The Star-Spangled Girl by Neil Simon is a comedy that isn't performed that often. It didn't fare well on Broadway when it premiered, and part of it may have been due to the fact that it was following on the heels of The Odd Couple which has now gone on to be viewed as one of the great comedies of the 20th century. Rover Dramawerks has revived this seldom produced play and I'm glad to report, the play holds up beautifully. No, it doesn't have the level of comedy and complexity that The Odd Couple has, but there is timelessness to this play that makes it surprisingly relevant to today's audiences. It is also a pleasure to see such a solid production of this play.

The premise is a bit of a spin-off of The Odd Couple in that there are two men that share an apartment and their temperaments are polar opposite from one another. A girl enters the picture and emotional mayhem ensues. The script is chock full of Simonesque zingers that still are funny even with our jaded sensibilities towards comedy. Interestingly enough, Simon has something very strong to say about politics and the American way, but he so lusciously enrobes it in comedy that the play never becomes obviously didactic.


Photo by Carol M. Rice

Marla Jo Kelley as the character Sophie plays the character with such gusto and delight, that regardless of how kooky she is in her attempt to be the "All American Girl"you grow to love her. Her performance is smile-inducing. Joe Cucinotti plays the nerdy Norman, and with a squawky voice he is very entertaining. I wish though that Mr. Cucinotti had played more of the subtext to his character. Neil Simon does write three dimensional characters, but the quirky nature of his characters are frequently played one-dimensionally; Mr. Cucinotti doesn't play him that shallow, but if three dimensions is the goal, he reached level two. I must emphasize that it's a solid performance, but there is more to be mined out of the character. Joey Folsom as Andy, the full-of-self-importance bossy young man, gives a full rounded delivery. He is likable and a bit despicable at the same time; idealistic and flawed. As an actor he is not Calvin Klein model material but he's able to create a sexiness to him that makes him alluring, yet his character is unaware of it. Truly a nicely done and complex performance.


Photo by Carol M. Rice

 

The sets are nicely executed, and I must give props to the props mistress Terrie W. Justus. Where she found all that fabulous period junk is beyond me. Paula McKenzie's costumes really capture the era and add a dash of humor to the show. Carol Rice's direction is solid as ever and she managed to create some great visual comedy that frequently was unexpected and added to the story. Joey Folsom's agony over his sunburn was staged with much hilarity, and his physical delivery of the action given by Ms. Rice was guffaw-inducing.

If there is a flaw in the production, it was that the timing of the delivery of the lines were slightly off during the first act. The lines are exceedingly funny, but the actors at times either didn't step on the lines fast enough to induce laughter, or took a beat too long, so the punchline was diminished: instead of a gut-busting laugh, it provoked a chuckle. Nonetheless, they created such strong characters that even though the humor was diminished I found myself caring for all three and became thoroughly engaged. Act two, the timing was spot on and what had already been a solid production turned into a great production.

This is a show well worth seeing. Go! In these times, we need the laughs.


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