Reviews - May 2021
The stage play of 'Play it Again, Sam' was actually written before the movie that most people are aware of, and starred the author, Woody Allen. I have to admit a bias against Woody Allen - I generally don't care for his approach or style. That said - I had a great time with this production at Melon Patch.
The show revolves around Allan, a film critic who's recently divorced and has a spine made of wet noodle. He tries dating and fails miserably because he believes he can only be attractive by not being himself, and discovers he's wrong. Along the way, he gets advice from someone as different from him as possible: a hallucination of Humphrey Bogart himself.
Allan is played by Dexter Fortune in the production, and in Act 1 appeared almost as nervous/neurotic as his character. The urge to play a Woody Allen-inspired character AS an impression of Woody Allen is forgivable; Fortune has Allen's build on an XL frame, and the suit seemed a bit tight in Act 1. Acts 2 & 3 were notably smoother, and Fortune found his groove as the lovable nebbish without having to be a short lovable nebbish. I expect that comfort level will only grow as the production continues.
Bogart is played by Shelly Whittle, who I last reviewed in the George Burns one man show with Tavares Community Theater in January. Whittle was good there, and great here. If anyone was born to play Bogart or a list of other Film Noir-type gumshoes, it's Whittle and he doesn't disappoint here. He carries the needed gravitas with a proper growl.
Allan's ex is Nancy Felix (Kaitlin Derbyshire), who's painted as the villain - and nothing changes by the end of the show. Derbyshire shows all the needed claws and fangs the role desires, and appears to have a marvelous time with it.
There are a number of smaller roles in this involving Allan's dates, dream girls, etc, etc; these roles need to be done well for belivability, but are parts that would be difficult for only one actress to pull off. Dillan Bullen, Sarah Wade, Stephanie Dezelin and Taylor Joan Perry all do so, proving that old adage that there really are no small parts, only small actors. All four ladies deserve the applause.
Allan's best friend is Dick Christie (Sean Derbyshire). Dick and his wife Linda (Nicole Neubaur) try to help Allan get past his divorce and restart his life. Mr. Derbyshire's and Ms. Neubaur's individual performances (especially in Act 1) appeared lifeless and disjointed. Neubaur picked things up in Act 2 & 3, and began showing the depth of emotion her character needed. Mr. Derbyshire's performance was lackluster until Act 3 when he had a greater emotional range to work with - he appears very good on 'big' emotion, but less comfortable with the 'small' emotions needed in Act 1.
Pet peeves: None, frankly. Really. OK, maybe one small one. ALL drinks were actually poured and/or had liquid - but other than one scene with Bogart, no one actually drinks. Of course, all on stage wore face shields which would have been a bit awkward. Didn't stop Bogey though...but what would?
One note for the cast: it's a comedy. You've GOT to give the audience a chance to laugh before continuing your lines.
The set was marvelous, and rumor has it David Clevenger was involved (although the program doesn't mention him). Clevenger is a Lake County fixture and his sets are always a treat. Certainly hope Melon Patch continues that behind-the-scenes relationship (so to speak)!
The lighting script must be a joy to work with; each Act has multiple dream scenes, moves to dark and then back to normal. Cues for the show I watched were flawless. Sound was well done as well, although I really HATE his door buzzer, I'm sure that was the point. Costumes were properly period (late 60's) and fitted well.
It's becoming a broken record - run, don't walk, to get tickets to this production.
Grade: A (subject matter probably not followed by children under 10 - and not funny to kids under about 14)
This is a another 'first' for me as a reviewer - "Noises Off" was the first play I'd critiqued, way back in the pre-COVID August 2019 (!).
I'll do my best not to compare the two productions - this way lies madness.
For first timers, the show is about a cast putting on a show, and how cast chemistry affects a show. At the start (Act 1), it's the last rehearsal before opening night, and things haven't quite jelled yet. By Act 2, they've been together for a month and the show is getting out of hand because some of the cast wants to kill some of the other members, and rest are trying to prevent that while making the show go on; by Act 3, it's near disaster. Comedy ensues and abounds. One of the best things about this script is that if you flub a line, forget a line, forget a prop, stumble, go left instead of right...no one in the audience knows. It's a constant state of chaos that makes me think some adlib almost has to occur to pull it off well.
I don't want to spoil the show, but having seen two decent versions so far; the script for Act 1 is very much setting the stage for Acts 2 & 3, and your patience will be well-rewarded later.
The set wasn't my favorite - one wall panel was fabric, the rest drywall or plywood, and every door slam or quick walk past by a cast member that fabric panel rippled. My SO and I agreed it was an unneeded distraction. The entire set needed to rotate between acts, and from my experience with WDPAC this was a very nicely done set - two floors, nine functional doors, at least one good window, one staircase facing the audience and two back stage. It's quite an undertaking, so that fabric panel was odd to say the least.
The acting highlights (and there were no 'bad' options here, it's very much an ensemble production):
Your first exposure to Tim Allgood (played by Jenn Ackerman Lopez) is during the pre-show setup of the stage, but after the curtain is open; Tim is main stagehand who, by Act 1, has been awake for 48 hours, and in the dark before lighting comes up is moving furniture and shuffling offstage. I actually said to my SO 'What the heck was THAT?!', not realizing Director Jenny Congiardo had the actors performing already (!). It was a great touch, and Lopez put on quite a show as the overburdened stagehand.
Mrs. Clackett/Dotty Otley (Laura Cooper) had a broad English accent that stood out without, in my opinion, being easily placed on a map. By Act 3 she's a riot, and Cooper was in fine form.
Sydney Breedlove portrays Vicki/Brooke Ashton, the cast ingenue. Initially I thought Breedlove was leaning a bit too much in Luna Lovegood as a character choice, but it eventually grew on me and I enjoyed Vicki's vacant stares into space.
The Director of the internal play is Lloyd Dallas (Adam Cornett), and he is initially anxious to wash his hands of this farce while doing his best to get hands on the cast members more directly. Cornett carries this frustration and anguish well, and keeps the energy circulating when on stage (which isn't enough, but that's the script).
Roger/Gary Lejeune is played by J. Lawrence Kenny, and his character is equally lost and manic. Kenny does each equally, but there's a chasm between the two that doesn't really get bridged, and there's no discernable buildup between them. I believe it's a scripting issue more than an acting choice.
The cast drunk is Burglar/Selsdon Mowbray, acted by Max Wadley. Selsdon is drunk pretty much the entire show, and Wadley does well dealing with an accent and being plastered.
This was a well done group effort, and deserves to been seen by a lot more people. Get your tickets before word gets out! Runs until May 9th.
Grade: A- (go see it - hurry up!)