Thursday, September 3, 2009
Star-Spangled Girl: Conventionally Funny Is Still Funny
Tell most people who've been doing theatre for awhile that someone is doing a Neil Simon play, and a lot of the responses you'll get back are "Again?" There is a perception that, as classics, his work has gotten overdone, between Lost In Yonkers, the Odd Couple, his Bbbbbbb series, Barefoot In The Park, and on and on and on. And on some level this is valid. They get done a lot. They are easy, recognizable fallback comedies, neither challenging nor confusing to the audience. And without the risk and challenge of producing something new and innovative, people eventually get bored of doing the same works by the same writers.
But here's the thing: there is a reason Simon's plays get produced repeatedly. There is a reason why they are classics, household names, studied in literature courses and made into films. There is a reason, and it is this: they are really damn well-written, and they are really damn funny. Not absurdist comedy or avant garde comedy or black comedy; just, "Hey, that person said/did something funny. I will laugh at it."
I saw Tacoma Little Theatre's production of Simon's The Star-Spangled Girl on Saturday. They said and did funny things, and I laughed at them.
Don't get me wrong above: when I say "unchallenging" I don't mean it can be phoned in. I've seen Simon done crappily with bad and non-actors, and it is not worthwhile. But director Elliot Weiner found a cast that has the capacity to nail every joke. Blaire York's Norman is hilariously absurdly obsessive, from his lines to his faciel expressions to his body-language, and hopelessly inept, down to his excellently ridiculous outfits, just the kind a fashion-ignorant nerd would select (and I would know). Luke Amundson fares well as the nominal straight-man Andy. He is a little weak in convincing the audience of his passion for the political cause of his magazine (though that point is also not terribly well addressed in the script), but he makes up for it in his play off the characters of Norman and Sophie, played to a neurotic, wigged-out t by Gretchen Boyt.
The play has weaknesses. The moral theme of open debate and seeing past political differences is forced already by the script, and the staging of the close just hammers. It in. To your face. With a 2x4. And on night two of week one, the inevitable technical flubs poked out. But it is still a worthy start to new Artistic Director Scott Campbell's first full season, a season populated with nothing but comedy to stab at the gloom and doom of the economy for a while. Worth the cost of admission, and, if the cost of admission is too high, tonight (Thursday, September 3) is Pay What You Can night. However you get there, I suggest that you get there. You see, there's these people up on the stage, saying and doing funny things, and you'll laugh at them.
(And if you want to balance out your common fare with something a little closer to the edge, TLT has recently announced a full slate of second-stage and late-night productions, starting with ghost story Woman In Black directed by mainstay John Munn and ending with a production of Elliot Weiner's own Brunch)
PLEASE NOTE: if you are a longtime patron of TLT, that starting this show, and presumably all season, night show curtain is at 7:30, not 8, with house opening at 7.